NABLUS, West Bank (AP)- Israeli soldiers raided the house of a British citizen in the West Bank town of Nablus early Thursday, killing a wanted Palestinian militant and arresting a second man, witnesses and the army said.
The militant who was killed, Mohammed Alassi, 28, was a local leader of the Islamic Jihad militant group and was responsible for a string of planned attacks against Israel, the army said. Others in Nablus denied he was connected to Islamic Jihad, saying he was a member of another militant group, the Al Aqsa Martyr”s Brigades.
Islamic Jihad was responsible for a series of attacks on Israeli targets in recent months, including a suicide bombing outside a shopping mall in the Israeli resort town of Natanya on Tuesday evening that killed five people.
After the bombing, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon ordered his security forces to target Islamic Jihad”s leaders, and other Israeli officials said the group was no longer covered by the 5-month-old truce between Israel and the Palestinians that has led to a major reduction in violence.
Soldiers traced Alassi to a house in Nablus early Thursday, surrounded the building and demanded he give himself up, said Maj. Sharon Asman. Alassi and another militant fled out the back and the soldiers ordered them to stop, Asman said. One man returned to the house and was later arrested, but Alassi continued running and was shot and killed, he said.
Soldiers took his body and later returned it to the Palestinians, he said. "They are wanted men we”ve been looking for for a long time," Asman said. "We know they”re in the house, and want to carry out terror attacks. And as part of our efforts to arrest wanted men, we went after them".
The raid took place at the home of Hannah Alassi, 67, a British citizen who moved to Nablus in 2002 and was not related to the fugitive.
The army said Hannah Alassi was an activist who gave refuge to militants in her home. Hannah Alassi said she was a journalist who has made television documentaries and filed stories to radio stations and magazines on the Middle East conflict.
She denied that Mohammed Alassi was a member of Islamic Jihad, saying that he was actually a member of Al Aqsa, a militant group responsible for scores of previous attacks on Israelis but unconnected to the suicide bombing in Natanya. Al Aqsa confirmed that Mohammed Alassi was one of its local militant leaders, a fact that was well-known to residents.
Hannah Alassi said the raid came suddenly while she was holding a small gathering of friends at her house. "We were just on the verandah, in the house, enjoying music and coffee and company and conversation," Alassi said. "Suddenly, undercover forces surrounded the house and set off stun grenades."
Alassi fled out the back and tried to jump a wall when soldiers shot him in the leg and incapacitated him, she said. The soldiers continued to shoot him at close range to ensure he was dead, she said.
"They could have arrested him, he was lying on the ground," she said. Asman said he did not have specific information on the accusation that Mohammed Alassi was killed after he was already incapacitated, but emphasized Mohammed Alassi”s violent history and pointed out that the soldiers did not kill the man who returned to the house.
Soldiers arrested the second man, Motassim Abdel Al, 23, whom they army said was an Islamic Jihad militant who had helped plan an unsuccessful suicide bombing along with Mohammed Alassi in May.
Local Al Aqsa leaders also said he was one of their members, not a member of Islamic Jihad.
Nablus, the largest city in the West Bank, is a main center of militant activity. Israeli forces carry out frequent raids there. "As long as Islamic Jihad continues to plan terror attacks, we will arrest them. We will arrest anyone involved in planning terror, or attacking soldiers," Asman said.
The upsurge in violence comes a month before Israel plans to pullout of the Gaza Strip and four West Bank settlements. Sharon has said he will carry through with his plan, which he says is necessary for Israel”s security, despite the attacks.
Sharon ordered the Gaza Strip settlements closed to all nonresidents on Wednesday in an effort to prevent Israeli hard-liners from moving there to resist the pullout.
On Thursday, EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana told Palestinian security officials that Israel”s withdrawal would present them with the crucial challenge of maintaining security in the volatile coastal strip.
Solana presented the Palestinian security forces in Gaza with motorcycles and vehicles that can neutralize explosive devices, and said the EU would donate 200 more vehicles as well as communications equipment to help prepare the Palestinians for the pullout.
"If everything goes well, and it will go well, in 40 days we”ll start the end of the occupation of Gaza. This is the day you have dreamed of for many nights and for many, many days," Solana said. "Now you have to prove clearly that the new responsibility you are going to have, you can handle it properly."