Hamas vows revenge after Israeli troops kill two militants

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The five-week-old Israeli-Palestinian truce was in jeopardy yesterday after Hamas vowed revenge for the killing of two of its fighters by Israeli commandos in a Nablus refugee camp. An Israeli sergeant was also killed in the exchange of fire.

A Hamas leaflet threatened to "teach the Zionist enemy a hard lesson". Abdel Aziz al-Rantisi, the Islamist movement's political leader, said in Gaza: "The Zionist enemy bears responsibility for liquidating the ceasefire. They have struck it a fatal blow."

Brigadier-General Gadi Eizenkot, Israel's West Bank commander, said that troops had raided the Askar refugee camp after receiving intelligence that the Hamas pair were planning an attack inside Israel. The Israelis have accused Hamas of exploiting the truce to rebuild its arsenal.

An army spokesman said the commandos surrounded the four-storey house and demanded the surrender of Khamis Abu Salem, who they suspected of running an explosives laboratory there. Palestinian gunmen responded with gunfire from the third floor, killing Sergeant Roi Oren.

Troops returned fire with small arms and an anti-tank missile, which set off a series of explosions, apparently from the laboratory. The blasts destroyed the third floor and killed Abu Salem and Fayez al-Sader, whose body was thrown into a neighbouring building. Israeli troops later blew up the rest of the building. The lab had contained dozens of kilograms of explosives, according to the Israelis.

The battle came after a month of relative calm. Though the ceasefire has seriously reduced the level of violence, the Israeli military continues to send forces into West Bank towns and refugee camps every night to arrest Palestinian terrorism suspects.

Further north, Israeli jets struck at Hizbollah positions in southern Lebanon after the Shia militia fired mortars and anti-tank missiles at Israeli troops along the border with Galilee. Exchanges of fire continued for more than an hour.

In Jerusalem, police charged two militant Jewish settlers, Itzik Pas and Mati Shvu, with transporting four kilogrammes of explosives stolen from an army base. They are suspected of involvement in an anti-Arab terror cell. Mr Pas's 10-month-old daughter, Shalhevet, was shot dead by a Palestinian sniper in Hebron two years ago.

Also yesterday, an Israeli government source said that Israel might alter the route of a series of fences and trenches that are being built between Israel and the West Bank. Israel says the barrier is meant to keep attackers out of Israel, but the Palestinians are angered because parts of the winding fence plunge deep into the West Bank.

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