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Israeli Troops Kill Senior Hamas Official - 2003-06-22


A senior official of the Palestinian militant group Hamas was killed by Israeli troops in a raid in the West Bank town of Hebron overnight. Abdullah Qawasmeh was on Israel's most wanted list.

A special anti-terrorist squad of Israel's Border Police entered Hebron overnight in what they said was a bid to arrest Mr. Qawasmeh but ended up killing him when, they said, he resisted arrest. They said he was armed and tried to escape.

Military officials have not provided details of the operation but sources were quoted by Israel Radio as saying it was not a targeted assassination.

Palestinian witnesses said Israeli troops made no attempt to detain Mr. Qawasmeh and simply gunned him down. Palestinian officials accused Israel of undermining Palestinian efforts to negotiate a truce with Hamas, which so far has refused to stop targeting Israelis.

Abdullah Qawasmeh is accused of having direct responsibility for attacks, from suicide bombings to roadside ambushes, that have killed more than 40 Israelis. Israeli officials said he planned the recent bus bombing in Jerusalem that killed 17 and wounded more than 100. He is said to have recruited some of the suicide bombers used in the attacks from a soccer club he ran in the area.

Meanwhile, representatives of the so-called quartet, the United States, the European Union, the United Nations and Russia, are to meet in Jordan today to discuss how to move forward on their so-called road map to peace. The plan calls on both sides to take specific steps that will lead to the creation of an independent Palestinian state by 2005.

Despite the violence in Hebron Saturday night, Israeli and Palestinian officials are reported to be close to a deal that would give Palestinians control of security in the Gaza Strip. Under the plan Israeli troops would withdraw from most or all of the Gaza Strip, and the Palestinian Authority would take responsibility for clamping down on Palestinian militants.