Thousands of Arab day labourers were barred from entering Israel from the West Bank and Gaza as Israeli troops sealed the pre-1967-war border. Armed police patrols were reinforced in Jerusalem, Tel-Aviv and other cities.
Israeli soldiers shot dead the two Hamas fighters on Thursday night in Taibeh, an isolated hamlet north-west of the city of Hebron. They were identified as the brothers Imad and Adel Awadallah. Hamas's founder and spiritual leader, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, grimly threatened Israel with an "appropriate response".
Imad Awadallah, a senior commander in Hamas's military wing, was arrested by the Palestinian police in April on suspicion of killing a Hamas bomb- maker, Muhyideen al-Sharif, in an internal power struggle.
In a secret, videotaped interview, Adel accused Yasser Arafat's Palestinian Authority of colluding with Israel to assassinate Sharif. Imad escaped from a Jericho prison last month. Both Israeli and Palestinian security services had been hunting him ever since.
The search was stepped up on Wednesday after an explosion and gunshots were heard in Taibeh, which is in an area under Israeli security control. Israeli officers speculated yesterday that it might have been a "work accident" or a trial run for an attack on Israelis.
Undercover units combed the area and found the Awadallah brothers in a farm. The two were killed in an exchange of fire. The Israelis say they suffered no casualties.
Troops unearthed a large cache of automatic rifles, hand grenades and ammunition on the site. An officer said that Israeli intelligence had information that Hamas was plotting a spectacular operation inside Israel, either kidnapping soldiers or killing civilians. These were the kind of weapons they would need, he added.
Mahmoud al-Zahhar, a Hamas spokesman in Gaza, promised the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, blood for blood. "Revenge will be very strong," he said.
Israel has learned to take these threats seriously. In 1996, after the Shin Bet internal security service assassinated Hamas's master bomb-maker, Yehya Ayyash, Islamist suicide bombers killed 60 Israelis and foreign tourists in Jerusalem, Tel-Aviv and Ashkelon.Reuse content