Two dead after gun battle near Israeli bus attack site

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The Independent Online

An Israeli officer and a Palestinian gunman were killed yesterday in a fierce gunfight as troops hunted three attackers who ambushed a bus, killing eight Israelis, near the West Bank settlement of Emmanuel on Tuesday.

An Israeli officer and a Palestinian gunman were killed yesterday in a fierce gunfight as troops hunted three attackers who ambushed a bus, killing eight Israelis, near the West Bank settlement of Emmanuel on Tuesday.

An intensive search by troops and helicopters continued last night for at least two other Palestinians suspected of attacking the armour-plated bus travelling from Bnei Brak, near Tel Aviv.

Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, the Defence Minister, visited the area yesterday and vowed to catch them all. "We know who they are," he said, "and we will lay our hands on those who sent them as well." Israeli security services blamed Tuesday's raid on a Hamas cell said to have carried out a similar ambush at the same spot seven months ago, killing 11. Officials named its Nablus-based leader as Nasser Asira.

Three other Israeli soldiers were wounded in yesterday's two-and-a-half hour gun battle. One was reported to be in critical condition. Residents of Emmanuel, an ultra-Orthodox township with many male residents who refuse to serve in the army, were confined to their homes as the manhunt went on. Despite the fact that the dead were settlers, whom many Palestinians regard as legitimate targets, the Palestinian Authority condemned the attack "in accordance with its policies that reject targeting civilians, be they Israeli or Palestinian."

Israel charged two senior West Bank militants yesterday with murder and other offenses against civilians inside Israel. They will be tried by civilian, rather than military, courts in an attempt to convince international critics that justice is being done. Nasr Awis, commander of the Fatah Tanzim militia in Nablus, is alleged to have planned attacks in which dozens of Israelis were killed. Tabeth Marwadi, a top Islamic Jihad activist in Jenin, is accused of murdering 21 Israelis.

Military police have arrested four Israeli soldiers, who live in settlements near Hebron, on charges of selling 15,000 rifle bullets to Palestinian arms dealers. Detectives are investigating whether the men, two pairs of brothers, also sold stolen weapons. One of the suspects is an officer and another is an NCO.

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