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Israeli Forces Kill 5 Hamas Members - 2003-03-14

Israeli forces shot dead five members of the militant group Hamas Thursday in the West Bank. The incident came just hours after Israeli soldiers had killed two Israeli armed guards, after mistaking them for Palestinian gunmen.

Five Palestinians were killed by Israeli forces late Thursday in the West Bank village of Tamoun, near the city of Jenin.

The Israeli army said the five, who were armed, were Hamas activists wanted by Israel, and one of them was wearing an explosives belt at the time.

Israel has intensified its operations against Hamas, since the organization claimed responsibility for blowing up a tank in the Gaza Strip last month, which killed four soldiers.

Hamas, the Islamic Resistance Movement, has also claimed responsibility for many of the Palestinian suicide bombings that had killed hundreds of Israelis in recent years.

The raid against Hamas came just hours after the Israeli Army expressed regret for the mistaken killing of two Israeli security guards employed by a Jewish settlement in the Hebron area of the West Bank.

The shooting occurred when soldiers from an elite unit spotted what they regarded as a suspicious car, and ordered the vehicle to stop.

An Israeli army statement said that after identifying one of the occupants as armed, the soldiers opened fire and killed him.

A second passenger in the car began fleeing the scene but was chased by an Israeli army helicopter, which shot him dead.

Israeli army spokeswoman Major Sharon Feingold says that the soldiers had been on high alert at the time because of specific warnings of Palestinian gunmen roaming the area.

She described the incident as a "tragic mistake" and not the first one in which innocent people on both sides had been killed because of the on-going conflict.