3 die in police clash with militants in the West Bank
Gun battle part of crackdown by Abbas government
QALQILIYA, West Bank - Palestinian police killed two Hamas militants yesterday after the men fired at security forces who had surrounded their underground hideout, officials said.
One officer was killed in the operation, part of an intensifying crackdown on Islamic militants in this West Bank town.
Three gunmen had huddled in a hole dug in the courtyard of a home in this northern West Bank town, and two were killed after rejecting pleas by relatives to surrender. Police initially reported that they spotted three bodies in the hideout, but it turned out later that one of them - Alaa Abu Diab - was only unconscious.
Palestinian security forces surrounded the home early yesterday and discovered the hideout under a large metal tray in the courtyard, said an officer with the Preventive Security Service, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not permitted to speak to the media.
The fugitives opened fire from below, killing one policeman and wounding a second.
The Hamas gunmen - Abu Diab, Iyad Abitli, and Mohammed Attiyeh - are well-trained fighters and have been wanted by Israel for several years, the Preventive Security Service officer said.
Abu Diab's mother, other family members and the town's mayor urged him to surrender, but he refused and even shot toward his relatives, police said.
Police fired tear gas and water hoses into the hideout before two of the men were killed, officials said. One of the dead men was wearing an explosives vest, they said.
The 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 gun battle - the worst violence since the factions fought a pitched battle over Gaza two years ago and Hamas overran the territory.
Abbas's 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's 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 yesterday's raid underscored his determination to rein in militants as part of his obligations under the US-backed "road map" peace plan.
Last week, Abbas met at the White House with President Obama and renewed a pledge to crack down on militants.
The United States has been training Abbas's elite forces to help him solidify his control of the West Bank and prepare for eventual statehood.