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Leading Palestinian Militant Dies in Explosion - 2002-01-14

A leading Palestinian militant is dead after an explosion Monday in the West Bank. Palestinians are blaming Israel for the blast.

The Palestinian militant, identified as Raed Karmi, died after a bomb exploded near his home in the West Bank town of Tulkarm. Mr. Karmi was the local leader of the Al Aqsa Brigades, which is an armed faction linked to Palestinian President Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement.

Israel wanted the militant in connection with shooting attacks, including the killings of two Israeli restaurant owners who visited Tulkarm about a year ago to purchase items for their Tel Aviv restaurant.

Mr. Karmi narrowly escaped death last September when Israeli combat helicopters fired missiles at his car, killing two passengers.

The Israeli military had no immediate comment on the latest incident.

Without confirming Israeli involvement in the explosion, government spokesman Raanan Gissin says Mr. Karmi was involved in the killing of nine Israelis. "He had a record, I would say, the largest number of killings in the past few months in the Tulkarm area," he said. "He ran an operation - he was the commander of the military arm of Fatah and as such was clearly deeply involved in the major terrorist actions that took place in the past few months there."

Palestinians accused Israel of planting the bomb that killed Mr. Karmi.

Clamoring for revenge, Palestinians carried the militant's body through the streets of Tulkarm firing shots into the air.

Israel has killed dozens of suspected militants since the current Palestinian uprising erupted nearly 16 months ago, saying such actions are necessary to prevent acts of terrorism.

In the past, such targeted killings, called assassinations by the Palestinians, have triggered revenge attacks.

Israel's policy of tracking and killing Palestinian militants has been condemned by the United States and other countries.

Meanwhile, Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres said Monday the government has decided to stop demolishing homes in the West Bank and Gaza because the operations were hurting the country's image.

The decision came after a stormy public debate over the army's demolition last week of buildings in the Rafah refugee camp in Gaza.

Bulldozers, backed by tanks, flattened the homes in retaliation for an attack on an Israeli military post near Gaza that killed four soldiers.

International aid organizations say hundreds of Palestinians were left homeless. The ban on demolitions did not apply to Arab neighborhoods in East Jerusalem.

On Monday, Israel destroyed a number of Palestinian homes in the city's Issawiyeh neighborhood, which the government says were built without proper permits.