Israeli gunship kills two Palestinian militants

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The Independent Online

The Israeli army killed two Palestinian militants yesterday, as a government minister was condemned by Palestinians and the Israeli left for saying he might strip two Arabs of Israeli citizenship for endangering state security.

The Israeli army killed two Palestinian militants yesterday, as a government minister was condemned by Palestinians and the Israeli left for saying he might strip two Arabs of Israeli citizenship for endangering state security.

One of the militants killed is linked by Israel to a suicide bombing in Tel Aviv last month that killed two Israelis and three foreign workers. Witnesses said Israeli armoured vehicles and helicopters moved into the village of Jabaa as the militants left a house at about midnight. They then heard sustained fire.

About 30 Israeli tanks stormed the northern Gaza Strip late last night. There were no immediate reports of casualties but witnesses said the tanks' machine-guns were firing as they advanced. There were calls from the loudspeakers of local mosques for Palestinians to defend the area but, apart from some rifle fire, there was little resistance.

The tanks advanced towards the outskirts of the Jabaliya refugee camp, a militant stronghold. The mayor of the village of Beit Lahiya said Israeli soldiers were carrying out house-to-house searches.

Villagers found the two dead men behind a rock where they had sought cover. Palestinians accused the Israeli army of assassinating the men. The army said they were shot while trying to escape. The pair belonged to the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, according to Palestinian sources. One was named as Ali Ajouri, whom Israel blames for the Tel Aviv bomb.

The Israeli army has already demolished the home of Mr Ajouri's family in retaliation, and is trying to deport his siblings from the West Bank to the Gaza Strip. The penalties were condemned by human rights groups as collective punishment and a breach of the Geneva Conventions.

Eli Yishai, the hardline Israeli Interior Minister, said yesterday he was considering removing the Israeli citizenship of two Arabs and cancelling the residency of a third on charges that they endangered Israel's security by helping militants.

Shimon Peres, the Foreign Minister, condemned the move, saying: "I would be very, very careful. People should be tried and punished but their citizenship should not be stripped." Israeli Arab MPs said it was the latest racist "assault" on them. Others said Israel was banned from removing citizenship by international law. But Ariel Sharon, the Prime Minister, called the move "correct, considered and balanced". About a fifth of Israeli citizens are Palestinians, known as Israeli Arabs, who were not forced to flee in 1948 and stayed on in the new state of Israel.

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