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Israel Kills Senior Islamic Militant, Truce at Risk (REUTERS) By Haitham Tamimi HEBRON, West Bank 08/14/03 12:52 PM ET) Source: http://www.reuters.com/newsArticle.jhtml?type=topNews&storyID=3279440
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HEBRON, West Bank (Reuters) - Israel killed a Palestinian militant commander Thursday, triggering vows of revenge in mounting signs that a six-week-old cease-fire critical to a new peace plan could collapse.
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A surge of violence since an army raid last week that killed two Hamas militants and prompted two retaliatory Palestinian suicide bombings has overshadowed diplomatic efforts to stop the U.S.- led "road map" plan from unraveling.
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Witnesses in Hebron, a West Bank stronghold of Muslim militants, said Israeli troops surrounded a house in search of Mohammad Seder, local head of Islamic Jihad´s armed wing. A gun battle broke out, followed by explosions in the building.
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A senior Islamic Jihad official said Seder´s body was found in the demolished house. A Reuters reporter saw soldiers removed his body with a machine gun still in his hands.
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An Israeli army statement said Seder was wanted on suspicion of organizing attacks that killed 19 Israelis and two foreign monitors. It described him as a "ticking bomb" planning a car bombing in the near future in defiance of the cease-fire.
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Militants swore revenge. "The response to this assassination will be quick, like an earthquake and in the depth of the Zionist entity (Israel)," said the Web site of Neda al-Quds, which is affiliated with the group.
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"We assure our people that resistance has a long arm and these crimes will not pass without punishment," Bassam Assadi, a senior West Bank Islamic Jihad official, said on Qatar-based al-Jazeera satellite television.
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A spokeswoman for Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz said he told Washington´s peace envoy Thursday there could be no progress on the road map until Palestinians began disarming and dissolving militant groups, a requirement of the plan.
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"In areas where the Palestinian Authority does not act against terror, we will do so," a senior Israeli official said. Palestinian Security Minister Mohammed Dahlan, citing Israel´s continued raids despite the truce, accused it of trying to provoke bloody retaliation so it could justify its reluctance to grant Palestinians a state as mandated by the peace plan.
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"It is important for militants to remain strongly committed to the cease-fire," he told Reuters. "They should not give Israel the chance to exploit an attack here and an attack there to justify its departure from ... political commitments."
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The "road map" envisages a Palestinian state by 2005 in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, lands captured by Israel in a 1967 war. But rightists dominating Israel´s ruling coalition balk at dismantling Jewish settlements or vacating territory.
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Dahlan and Mofaz planned to meet later Thursday to discuss steps on the road map, Palestinian officials said.
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Israel Thursday re- erected two major West Bank roadblocks that it had removed to ease Palestinian civilian movement in occupied areas, another confidence-building clause in the plan.
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The fresh clampdown came as Israeli officials voiced renewed concern about militant infiltration after Tuesday´s bombings.
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Nabil Abu Rdainah, adviser to Palestinian President Yasser Arafat, condemned the move. "It is a bid to disrupt world efforts to advance peace," he told Reuters in Ramallah.
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Two suicide bombers from Nablus killed two Israelis on Tuesday in what their militant factions called reprisals for an army raid that killed two wanted Hamas men in the West Bank city last week.
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In response, the Israeli army demolished the family home of one suicide bomber Wednesday and the other Thursday.
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But it eschewed major military action common in the aftermath of past suicide bombings in a 34-month-old Palestinian uprising, heeding U.S. diplomatic pressure for restraint.
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Militant faction chiefs said after Tuesday´s bombings they remained committed to the three-month truce. (© Reuters 2003 08/14/03)
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