Israeli troops have killed three Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and entered the town of Bethlehem, one day after a suicide bombing in Jerusalem that killed 10 people.
Israeli troops shot and killed two Palestinians near the Jewish settlement of Dugit in the Gaza Strip. The military said the two men were carrying explosives and rocket propelled grenades. A third Palestinian was shot and killed near the West Bank town of Hebron when he reportedly opened fire on troops preparing to arrest him.
The Bethlehem raid was described by Israeli officials as a measured response to Thursday's suicide bombing that killed 10 Israelis and wounded more than 50 others. The incursion was the first in six months. It was described by the military and Palestinian witnesses as small scale. In the past, Israeli responses to terror attacks the military routinely would seal off the West Bank and Gaza Strip. That did not happen this time.
Palestinian Cabinet Minister Saeb Erekat condemned the raid and charged that Israel should be sending a delegation to resume what he termed a meaningful peace process rather than sending soldiers and tanks to Bethlehem.
The al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades and Hamas militant groups claimed responsibility for the Jerusalem bus bombing. The 24-year-old Palestinian policeman who carried out the attack left behind separate letters saying in one that he acted on behalf of al-Aqsa and in the other that he did it for Hamas. Such conflicting claims of responsibility have occurred in past terror attacks and there have also been occasions when the two groups worked together.
In Thursday's attack, the bomber blew up a bus during the morning rush hour less than 100 meters from Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's official residence.
It came as senior U.S. officials renewed efforts to push forward the stalled "road map" plan for peace between Israel and the Palestinians.