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Israeli Undercover Unit Kills 2

January 30, 2003

HEBRON, West Bank (AP) _ An Israeli undercover unit shot dead two Palestinian militants in Tulkarem, including a militia leader, and army bulldozers demolished a Palestinian vegetable market and closed Palestinian police and TV stations in Hebron.

In Tulkarem, an undercover border police unit shot dead two armed Palestinians in a gunfight after chasing their car through the streets of the town, Palestinian and Israeli security sources said.

In Hebron, soldiers fired live rounds and rubber-coated steel pellets at Palestinians who threw stones and large objects during the demolition of more than 100 market stalls. There were no immediate reports of injuries.

The military said it carried out the West Bank operation in response to a series of shooting ambushes in Hebron. Since Nov. 15, 18 Israelis have been killed in such attacks.

The Hebron sweep came two days after Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s election victory. In a sign that he will stick to his tough policies against the Palestinians, Sharon rebuffed Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat’s offer to meet and resume peace talks.

On Wednesday, Sharon reiterated allegations that Arafat encourages attacks on Israelis. Sharon said he would only negotiate with Palestinians not engaged in violence.

Palestinian Cabinet minister Saeb Erekat said Thursday that Sharon’s refusal to talk with Arafat ``is a reflection of the policies of the next government of Israel _ a frozen peace process, deterioration and escalation, and attempts to dictate rather than negotiate.″

In Tulkarem, hospital officials said the undercover troops killed Fayez Jaber, 32, the local leader of the Al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade, a militant group affiliated to Arafat’s Fatah party, that has claimed responsibility for dozens of attacks on Israelis.

Palestinian security officials said the two were killed when they tried to run from their car after Israeli soldiers, disguised as Palestinians, chased them through Tulkarem. Military officials said troops were shot at during the attempted arrest, and returned fire, killing the two. Ten other Palestinians were arrested in the raid, military officials said.

In Thursday’s Hebron sweep, tanks rumbled along the main roads as soldiers patrolled on foot. Six thoroughfares were closed to Palestinian traffic, witnesses said. Troops searched homes, and Israeli radio reports said five Palestinians were arrested.

Three bulldozers escorted by four tanks demolished more than 100 stalls at a vegetable market in the center of Hebron. The army spokesman declined comment on the demolition of the market stalls.

Soldiers also closed three police stations in Hebron, said the Palestinian police commander in the city, Khaled Madoun.

The army accused police of helping militants. It said a bomb was found at one of the police stations on Wednesday and was detonated in a controlled explosion. Palestinian police said the bomb had been removed from a car found in the Hebron area in recent days.

The Hebron police chief said Israeli soldiers released criminals held in lockups at the police stations. The army said the jails were empty when soldiers arrived. Troops questioned 11 police officers at the stations before freeing them, the army said.

Madoun accused Israel of trying to create more chaos in the Palestinian areas. ``It’s Sharon’s policy to destroy the last remnant of the Palestinian Authority in Hebron, the police force,″ Madoun said. ``The Palestinians can’t even feel safe from criminals.″

The Palestinian police force was established as part of interim peace agreements in 1995. In the past 28 months of fighting, Israeli troops have persistently targeted Palestinian police installations in response to bombing and shooting attacks by Palestinian militants. Israel has accused officers of participating in attacks or doing nothing to prevent them.

Soldiers also closed two local TV stations and a radio studio, arresting a worker at one of the TV studios, broadcasters said. Khaled Masade, director of Nauras TV, said his station only broadcast music shows and films. ``We don’t know why they are closing us,″ he said.

In its statement, the army made no reference to the closing of TV stations.

In the Gaza Strip, Israeli army bulldozers demolished three homes in the town of Rafah on Thursday, as well as two wells that provide water for thousands of residents, Palestinian witnesses said.

Eighteen houses were damaged during the operation, including four that were built by a U.N. agency that helps Palestinian refugees, the witnesses said. The army did not immediately comment on the operation in Rafah, which is a flashpoint for violence.

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