Six killed as Palestinian forces hit Hamas in West Bank

Top Hamas fugitives lobbed grenades and fired automatic weapons today to push back Palestinian security forces storming their hideout, leaving six dead in the bloodiest clash since the Palestinian president launched a crackdown on Hamas in the West Bank two years ago.

Two top Hamas militants - on the run from Israel for years - were among those killed, along with an unarmed Hamas supporter and three Palestinian policemen.

After the hours-long battle, hundreds of spent bullet casings, puddles of blood and tear gas canisters were visible at the hideout, a two-story building in the northern West Bank town of Qalqiliya. Parts of the walls were burned down.

The Islamic militant Hamas immediately hurled angry accusations at the Western-backed president, Mahmoud Abbas, accusing him of betraying Palestinians resisting Israeli occupation and threatening revenge. Relations have been sour since Hamas seized Gaza by force two years ago, leaving Abbas only in control of the West Bank.

The arrest raid underscored Abbas' determination to rein in militants as part of his obligations under the U.S.-backed "road map" peace plan.

The shootout came just three days after Abbas met at the White House with President Barack Obama and renewed a pledge to honor these commitments. The U.S. has been training Abbas' elite forces to help him affirm his control of the West Bank and prepare for eventual statehood.

Despite Hamas' threats of reprisals, it was not immediately clear whether it would change its tactic of lying low in the West Bank while it weathers Abbas' crackdown. Since Hamas' Gaza takeover, Abbas' security forces have detained hundreds of Hamas supporters in the West Bank and closed the group's institutions and charities.

The Qalqiliya clash began late Saturday when Palestinian troops surrounded a hideout of Mohammed Samman, a leader of Hamas' military wing, Izzedine al-Qassam, and his assistant, Mohammed Yassin. Both had been on Israel's wanted list for six years, Palestinian security officials said.

Initially, about two dozen officers stormed the house, breaking down the door, said a policeman who had participated in the raid, but spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to reporters. The Hamas men lobbed a grenade and opened automatic fire, killing three officers and wounding two critically, he said. Other officers fled, then brought in reinforcements.

The ensuing battle lasted until midmorning Sunday. Police say they found bombs, suicide belts and bullets in their search of the house.

Qalqiliya, which elected a Hamas mayor several years ago, was tense Monday. Women gathered near the scene heaped insults on policemen. Sporadic gunfire erupted in other areas of town, and police said the shots came from Hamas loyalists targeting officers, though there were no reports of injuries.

Security officials seized the bodies of the Hamas militants, fearing a public burial would turn into angry protests against the Palestinian Authority. Muslim tradition demands the dead should be buried quickly.

Hamas officials in the West Bank said that some 40 loyalists of the group had been arrested in Qalqiliya in the past week as part of the search for the top two fugitives.

In Gaza, Abu Obeida, a spokesman for the Hamas military wing, threatened "tough and harsh reprisal."

Ehab Ghussein, a spokesman for the Interior Ministry in Gaza, said Abbas' security forces have betrayed those fighting Israeli occupation.

But Abbas aide Nabil Abu Rdeneh said going after militants is key to one day setting up a Palestinian state. "To build our country and our state, we need to have one authority, one gun, one law," he said.

Hamas opposes Abbas' policy of trying to negotiate a peace deal with Israel. In recent months, Abbas and Hamas have tried to reach a unity deal, but talks have run aground over Hamas' refusal to recognize Israel and renounce violence, a precondition for joining a coalition with Abbas supporters.

Last year, 26 Palestinians were killed during Fatah and Hamas attempts to crack down on their rivals, said the Gaza-based Palestinian Center for Human Rights.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Life and Style
life
Arts and Entertainment
Cold case: Aaron McCusker and Christopher Eccleston in ‘Fortitude’
tvReview: Sky Atlantic's ambitious new series Fortitude has begun with a feature-length special
Voices
Three people wearing masks depicting Ed Miliband, David Cameron and Nick Clegg
voicesPolitics is in the gutter – but there is an alternative, says Nigel Farage
Voices
The veterans Mark Hayward, Hugh Thompson and Sean Staines (back) with Grayson Perry (front left) and Evgeny Lebedev
charity appealMaverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
News
i100
News
people
Sport
Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho
footballThe more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Life and Style
Vote green: Benoit Berenger at The Duke of Cambridge in London's Islington
food + drinkBanishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turn over a new leaf
News
Joel Grey (left) poses next to a poster featuring his character in the film
peopleActor Joel Grey comes out at 82
News
i100
News
business
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Marketing & Sales Manager

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A reputable organisation within the leisure i...

Tradewind Recruitment: Science Teacher

£90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: I am currently working in partnersh...

Recruitment Genius: Doctors - Dubai - High "Tax Free" Earnings

£96000 - £200000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Looking for a better earning p...

Recruitment Genius: PHP Developer

£32000 - £36000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A rapidly expanding company in ...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee