JERUSALEM (AP) – A rocket fired from Gaza killed a young Israeli woman Thursday, hours after Israeli forces raided the home of a 67-year-old British citizen West Bank and killed a militant, incidents that further shook a five-month truce already threatened this week by a suicide bombing.
Two rockets exploded Thursday afternoon in the village of Nativ Haasara. One hit a house and killed a woman in her 20s, the military said. The second destroyed a parked car.
A Palestinian militant group, the Al Aqsa Martyrs”Brigades, said the rocket attack was retaliation for the killing of the militant.
In an angry reaction, David Baker, an official in Prime Minister Ariel Sharon”s office, charged that the Palestinian Authority was responsible because of its "refusal to fight terror". He added, "We will not allow our citizens to be murdered, and if the Palestinian Authority doesn”t take necessary steps to prevent terror, we will". Rockets also exploded in an army base and a Gaza settlement, slightly wounding several Israelis, the military and media reports said. In the past, Israel has retaliated for such rocket barrages by sending tanks into northern Gaza, but it has refrained from that since a truce was declared 8 February 2005.
Early Thursday, Israeli forces shot and killed a fugitive in the West Bank city of Nablus in one of several arrest raids overnight, a sign of escalating violence that could spiral out of control and torpedo the truce, though Israel and the Palestinians have an interest in maintaining the calm at least until Israel completes its pullout from Gaza and part of the West Bank in the summer.
The militant who was killed, Mohammed Alassi, 28, was a local leader of the Islamic Jihad militant group and was planning attacks against Israel, the army said. Others in Nablus said he was a member of a different militant group, the Al Aqsa Martyrs” Brigades, linked to Abbas” Fatah movement.
Islamic Jihad carried out a series of attacks on Israeli targets in recent months, including a suicide bombing outside a shopping mall in the Israeli seaside city of Netanya on Tuesday evening that killed five people. The fifth victim, a soldier, died Thursday.
After the bombing, Sharon ordered his security forces to target Islamic Jihad leaders.
Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, who harshly condemned the bombing, criticized the Israeli raid into Nablus and called on all sides to show restraint. "That is what we call a cycle of dirty violence", he said. "We believe that this will lead only to the destruction of the peace process".
Early Thursday, soldiers surrounded the Nablus house where Alassi was staying and demanded he surrender, said Maj. Sharon Asman. Alassi and another militant fled, and the soldiers ordered them to stop. One man returned to the house and was arrested, but Alassi continued running and was shot and killed, he said.
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. Hannah Alassi said she was a journalist who made television documentaries and filed stories to radio stations and magazines on the Middle East conflict.
She said Mohammed Alassi was not in Islamic Jihad, but rather in Al Aqsa, a militant group responsible for scores of attacks on Israelis but unconnected to the suicide bombing in Netanya.
Elsewhere in the West Bank overnight, Israeli forces arrested 10 other Islamic Jihad suspects, the military said.
Visiting German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer on Thursday scolded the Palestinians for failing to stop militants. Using unusually strong language after meeting Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia, Fischer said, "Terrorism will have no positive results, and there will be no chance to establish an independent Palestinian state as long as violence and terrorism continue."
The upsurge in violence comes a month before Israel”s pullout from the Gaza Strip and part of the West Bank.
Sharon ordered the Gaza Strip settlements closed to all nonresidents on Wednesday to prevent Israeli extremists from moving there to resist the pullout.
Speaking to police Thursday, Sharon said violence would not stop the pullout and urged security officers to ignore settlers” calls to disobey orders to evacuate the 25 settlements. He said there would be "zero tolerance toward the extremists, the violent and those who refuse to serve."