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Israeli Troops Kill Two in West Bank Raid

December 1, 2003

RAMALLAH, West Bank (AP) _ The Israeli military launched a large-scale raid on suspected militants in the West Bank city of Ramallah Monday, killing at least two armed Palestinians and arresting dozens of other people, the army said.

The raid came hours before Israeli and Palestinian peace negotiators headed to Geneva to sign an unofficial peace plan, and a day before Palestinian militants were to meet in Cairo for cease-fire talks. It also coincided with the visit by U.S. envoy William Burns, who is in the region trying to restart stalled peace talks.

More than 60 tanks, jeeps and armored personnel carriers entered Ramallah after midnight, carrying out house-to-house searches across the city, Palestinian security officials said.

The army said the raid _ carried out by commandos, tanks and the Shin Bet security service _ targeted the Hamas infrastructure in the Ramallah area, which it says is behind attacks that have killed more than 60 Israelis in the last three years of fighting.

Soldiers shot the armed militants during a fierce gun battle that erupted near a building in the Al-Amari refugee camp in Ramallah, the army said. The army confirmed two deaths.

In a separate incident, soldiers surrounded a house where a fugitive was hiding, the army said. The militant threw a grenade at the troops, who then fired at him. It was unclear whether the militant was wounded, the army said.

Palestinian witnesses said dozens of people were arrested in the raids, including a Hamas leader, Ghassan Abassi. Israeli military officials confirmed ``a number″ of arrests, and said they had uncovered an explosives laboratory, which the army had destroyed.

Palestinian witnesses said the army had destroyed an old house and an Internet cafe.

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat has been holed up in his Ramallah headquarters for nearly two years, and Israel has threatened to expel him in the past.

The army stressed the raid was ``nothing unusual.″ It said it had informed the Palestinian Authority of the raid beforehand and said there was no plan to enter Arafat’s compound or confront Palestinian forces.

An Israeli official, speaking on condition of anonymity, denied the raid was timed to coincide with the signing of the Geneva Accord, which Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has called subversive. The official said the raid was part of Israel’s ``ongoing war on terrorism.″

At Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport, dozens of Israeli and Palestinian politicians, local celebrities and journalists flew aboard a Swiss charter to Geneva for a launch ceremony of the agreement. Former President Jimmy Carter was among the expected attendees.

The unofficial peace plan worked out during two years of secret negotiations between Israeli opposition figures and Palestinians.

The unofficial treaty proposes borders between Israel and a future Palestinian state close to Israel’s borders before the 1967 Mideast war, giving the Palestinians almost all of the West Bank and Gaza Strip and part of Jerusalem.

It calls for the removal of most Israeli settlements there and largely sidesteps the so-called right of return for Palestinians who fled or were driven out during the 1948-49 war that followed Israel’s creation and their descendants. It also divides sovereignty in Jerusalem.

Also Monday the army blew up a house in the West Bank city of Hebron, Palestinian witnesses said. The three-story building belonged to a militant from Hamas killed by Israel in September, the witnesses said. The army had no comment.

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