Hebron killings set off protests

Jerusalem - Palestinians battled with Israeli troops throughout the occupied lands yesterday in protests against the army's siege of an Islamic militant hideout. At least 35 people were wounded, hospital officials said.

Israeli troops fired rockets and machine-guns for 22 hours at the hideout in a crowded Hebron neighbourhood on Tuesday and Wednesday. Four suspected militants and one Palestinian bystander were killed and two bystanders were wounded. The army kept its troops around the destroyed hideout yesterday, as bulldozers finished knocking down the three-storey building and the search went on for bodies in the rubble. Soldiers pulled out three bodies.

Army officials were unsure if other militants had somehow escaped the relentless assault. Five Israeli soldiers, including two senior officers, were wounded in the fighting.

The army claimed the gun battle was with the senior leadership of Hamas, the Islamic Resistance Movement, responsible for a number of fatal attacks against Israelis in the area. Palestinians also said the four believed killed in the hideout were members of the armed underground of Hamas. The Israeli daily Ha'aretz quoted unidentified sources saying the four were from the Izzedine al-Qassam Brigades and were planning to avenge the 25 February mosque massacre in Hebron.

Protests erupted yesterday in towns throughout the occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Soldiers clashed with youths in Hebron, which is under curfew, and hospitals reported that five Palestinians were wounded. A curfew was imposed on Nablus, the West Bank's largest city, after 15 people were wounded by army gunfire, hospital officials said.

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