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Israeli Troops, Palestinian Militants Clash in West Bank - 2003-09-05


Israeli troops clashed with Palestinian militants in the West Bank city of Nablus early Friday. One Israeli soldier and one suspected militant were killed, four soldiers were reported injured and several militants arrested.

Israeli troops entered Nablus in the early morning hours Friday, on what they describe as a search mission for wanted militants. Israeli officials say a firefight ensued during which armed Palestinians threw grenades at the soldiers.

The army says it is trying to determine the identity of the militant who was killed to see if it is Mohammed Hanbali, a local Hamas commander, who Israel describes as a top bomb-maker.

Security forces also evacuated and then blew up a multi-story apartment building in which they said the wanted men were hiding.

Israeli-Palestinian violence has risen sharply in recent weeks after a Hamas suicide bomber blew himself up on a bus in Jerusalem, killing 22 people in mid-August. Israel has since carried out a half dozen targeted assassination attacks against senior militants.

The escalating violence also comes amid a Palestinian political crisis. On Thursday, Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas told parliament to either give him the increased powers and autonomy he needs to do his job or dismiss him. The crisis is part of a power struggle between Mr. Abbas and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, and has thrown the Palestinian leadership into turmoil.

In particular, Mr. Abbas has been demanding greater control over the Palestinian security apparatus to rein in militants and try to move the internationally-backed road map for peace forward. Mr. Arafat has refused to cede full control of the security services to his prime minister.

Lawmakers are expected to meet over the next few days to decide whether to hold a vote of confidence in the Abbas government next week.

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