Israeli army officials say they might have to permanently take over a Palestinian-ruled area in the divided West Bank city of Hebron if attacks continue on a Jewish settlement.
The officials told Israeli radio they have no intention of establishing a permanent presence in Abu Sneineh, but said they would consider it unless Palestinian attacks stop. The Israeli army briefly raided the neighborhoold overnight and destroyed two buildings Israeli says were used in attacks against Jewish settlers.
The army began the assault after two brothers, including an 11-year-old boy, were shot in a Jewish settlement in Hebron.
The raid sparked a fierce gun battle with explosions and tracer bullets lighting up the night sky.
The buildings that were destroyed were located on a strategic hilltop that has been used by Palestinians to fire at Jewish settlements in the valley below.
Israeli government spokesman Dore Gold said the army does not want to permanently reoccupy Palestinian-controlled territory. "Israel did not want to retake Abu Sneineh, but wished to direct its fire and its activity against those locations, which were being used against the Israeli children living below," he said.
Palestinian legislative council member Ziad Abu Zayyad called the incursion provocative. "It seems to me that these continued attacks and the continued assassinations against Palestinian activists and all the other provocative measures taken by Israel, they seek a Palestinian reaction, which will justify a wide plan of aggression by Israel against the Palestinians," he said.
Jewish settlers in Hebron have been demanding more protection since a Palestinian sniper shot and killed a 10-month-old baby earlier this year.
A spokesman for the settlers in Hebron, David Wilder, said the Israeli army needs to permanently reoccupy the Palestinian-controlled areas to end the gun battles. Mr. Wilder said this latest raid is a message to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. "I don't believe it will stop the shooting," he said. "It was a symbolic act. It said to Arafat we have the capability to go up there. We've done it once, we can do it again, whether I think that it will stop the shooting, unfortunately no."
Hebron, the traditional burial site of the biblical patriarch Abraham, has been a frequent flash point for violence.
About 500 heavily guarded Jewish settlers in Hebron are surrounded by about 120,000 Palestinians. Palestinians say the settlers constantly attack them and destroy their property.
Hebron was divided into zones in a 1997 agreement, two years after Israel started turning over cities in the West Bank and Gaza Strip to Palestinian control.