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Witnesses: Israel Conducts New Raids

October 29, 2002

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RAMALLAH, West Bank (AP) _ Israeli troops killed a suspected Islamic militant in his hideout and demolished the home of another Hamas suspect in separate raids Tuesday in the West Bank, Palestinian witnesses said.

Also in the West Bank, soldiers dismantled Havat Gilead, an illegal Jewish settlement outpost, without resistance from about 20 settlers living there. Last week, settlers scuffled with soldiers trying to drag them away.

A growing dispute over settlements is threatening to bring down Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s coalition government and force early elections.

Sharon has said he will try to form a narrow coalition if his junior partner, the moderate Labor party, votes against the 2003 state budget Wednesday, as threatened, to protest increased spending on settlements.

Sharon’s coalition chairman, Zeev Boim, said Tuesday that ``the more realistic scenario is that there will be no choice for the prime minister but ... to seek early elections within 90 days.″

In Palestinian politics, Yasser Arafat prepared to present a new Cabinet to his parliament for approval Tuesday. Last month, legislators forced Arafat’s old Cabinet to resign amid mounting complaints of corruption. The new team is expected to be approved, despite relatively minor changes.

Arafat was to address parliament Tuesday. According to a draft obtained by The Associated Press, the Palestinian leader was to reiterate his condemnation of attacks on civilians, be they Israelis or Palestinians.

``Such attacks do not help our national interest in having our independent state, nor the Israeli interest of having security and peace,″ Arafat said, according to the draft.

In overnight military strikes, troops tracking a Palestinian fugitive raided the West Bank town of Tubas and surrounded a two-story house early Tuesday, said a resident, Samir Sawafta.

Sawafta said he heard soldiers calling on the fugitive in Arabic to surrender. ``After a few minutes, I heard intensive shooting inside the house,″ Sawafta said, adding that later troops carried a body wrapped in a blanket out of the building.

The dead man was identified as Assim Sawafta, 19, a member of Hamas’ military wing, Izzedine al Qassam. Israel Radio said Assim Sawafta had been hiding in the attic of the house, which belonged to his uncle. Assim and Samir Sawafta were members of the same clan, but not close relatives.

The Israeli military had no immediate comment.

In the West Bank town of Jenin, which Israeli troops reoccupied on Friday, troops blew up the two-story family house of another member of the Hamas military wing, Ahmed Halajiya, 42, witnesses said. The demolition left 15 people homeless, residents said.

It brought to five the number of homes razed in Jenin in the current Israeli operation, launched in response to a suicide bombing by Hamas members from Jenin that killed 14 Israelis. Since the weekend, troops have also arrested dozens of suspected militants and taken over dozens of homes in the town.

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