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Israeli Troops Kill Hamas Leader in Nablus - 2003-09-05


Israeli military officials say troops shot and killed a local leader of the Palestinian militant group, Hamas in the West Bank city of Nablus Friday. One Israeli soldier was also killed in the clashes and four others were injured.

Israeli troops entered Nablus in the early morning hours Friday. The apparent target of the mission was Mohammed Hanbali, a senior Hamas commander, described by Israel as a top bomb-maker. Israel says Mr. Hanbali was behind suicide bombings that killed dozens of Israelis.

Authorities say as troops closed in, a gun battle broke out in which they say Mr. Hanbali was killed. Several suspected militants were arrested.

Troops later blew up a multi-story apartment building in which they say the wanted men had been hiding. The building was evacuated before the explosion, but its demolition has left a number of families homeless.

Israeli-Palestinian violence has risen sharply in recent weeks. In mid-August, a Hamas suicide bomber blew himself up on a bus in Jerusalem killing 22 people. Israel has since carried out a half dozen targeted assassination attacks against senior militants, a self-imposed cease-fire by major militant groups has collapsed, as have peace talks between Israeli and Palestinian leaders.

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 days to decide whether to hold a vote of confidence in the Abbas government next week.