QALQILIYA, West Bank, (AP) – Three Hamas fugitives opened fire on Palestinian police killing one of the officers encircling their underground hiding place Thursday, as the government intensified its crackdown on Islamic militants in the West Bank.
The three were huddling in a man-deep hole dug in the courtyard of a home rejecting pleas by relatives, as special forces were called to the scene to try to resolve the standoff, said a senior member of the Preventive Security Service.
Palestinian security forces encircled the home in the early hours of the morning Thursday. During a search, officers spotted a vase sitting on large metal tray in the courtyard, moved it and uncovered the hideout, said the officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity. The fugitives opened fire from below, killing one policeman and wounding a second.
Police spokesman Adnan Damiri confirmed that the fugitives were hiding underground.
The Hamas gunmen — Alaa Abu Diab, Iyad Abitli and Mohammed Attiiyeh — are well-trained fighters and have been wanted by Israel for several years, the Preventive Security Service officer said.
Abu Diab’s mother and other family members urged him to surrender, but he refused. As the standoff continued, police fired tear gas and water hoses into the area.
Thursday’s raid marked the second attack on a Hamas hideout in Qalqiliya by security forces loyal to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas this week. On Sunday, six people were killed in a fierce gunbattle between Palestinian police and Hamas militants in Qalqiliya, the worst violence since the factions fought a pitched battle over Gaza two years ago and Hamas overran the territory.
Abbas’ security forces have been cracking down on Hamas in the West Bank for the past two years, arresting hundreds of activists and closing down charities and other institutions.
In Gaza, Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum accused Abbas of waging war on those resisting occupation. “Our fighters have the right to defend themselves and to confront this conspiracy,” he said.
Abbas’ Fatah movement and Hamas have made intermittent unsuccessful attempts to reconcile since the Hamas takeover of Gaza. The split has complicated Mideast peace efforts because the Palestinians cannot negotiate with Israel in a single voice and Hamas refuses to recognize the Jewish state.
Abbas has backed Washington’s peace efforts, and Thursday’s raid underscored his determination to rein in militants as part of his obligations under the U.S.-backed “road map” peace plan. Last week, Abbas met at the White House with President Barack Obama and renewed a pledge to crack down on militants and honor other commitments under the road map.
The U.S. has been training Abbas’ elite forces to help him solidify his control of the West Bank and prepare for eventual statehood.