Israeli security forces were on high alert this week for possible terrorist attacks after an undercover border police unit killed three members of the Hamas fundamentalist group in the West Bank town of Hebron.
Two of the three killed on Sunday were said to be high on Israel’s list of most wanted Hamas terrorist.
The third, the leader of a local Hamas cell, was identified by members of his family on Monday after they initially denied that he had been among the dead.
The Israel Defense Force said the cell was responsible for killing at least six Israelis and wounding 12 during the past year.
The IDF issued a statement Sunday saying that the three Hamas members were on their way to carry out an attack against Israelis.
After killing the three men, Israeli soldiers found in their car two assault rifles, a submachine gun, grenades, ammunition and Israeli army uniforms.
The three were identified by the IDF as Jihad Golmi, Tarik Natshe and Adel Falah. Golmi, who was considered the leader of the group, escaped from an Israeli prison about 18 months ago.
The killings took place around 9 a.m. Sunday, when members of the border police undercover anti-terror unit ambushed the terrorists’ car, ridding it with bullets in a grove just outside Hebron.
Security sources said Hamas may attempt to carry out terror attacks in the coming days in an effort to prove that its strength has not been diminished as a result of the killings.
Maj. Gen. Ilan Biran, commander of the Israeli army’s central command, said the IDF would continue its hunt for other Hamas cells operating near Hebron.
“There is another cell in this area, and possibly two or three others,” he told reporters.
A curfew that was imposed on the Palestinian residents of Hebron immediately after the attack remained in effect on Monday.
Hebron Mayor Mustafa Natshe protested the curfew, saying it will only lead to more violence.
“In the city, these kinds of actions will only push more Palestinian youths toward joining the Hamas,” he said.
Meanwhile, a senior member of the Palestinian Authority said the Israeli soldiers had killed the Hamas members in cold blood.
“I express sorrow at the killing of three Palestinian martyrs in Hebron,” Nabil Sha’ath, in charge of planning for the Palestinian Authority, said in statement.
“No one can but condemn liquidating a Palestinian human being in cold blood. I condemn this strongly, and we call for peace and security of both sides.”
Sha’ath, appearing Sunday on the ABC-TV show “This Week With David Brinkley,” said the Palestinian Authority is doing everything within its power to contain terrorists operating from Gaza.
Palestinian police detained about 300 members of the Islamic Jihad and Hamas fundamentalist groups after members of the groups launched two suicide bombings in Gaza on April 9, killing seven Israeli and an American woman who was studying in Israel.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin said Palestine Liberation Organization leader Yasser Arafat was not doing enough to crack down on terror.
“I don’t believe that he has tried seriously,” said Rabin, who also appeared on the television program.
Earlier, Rabin told Israel Television he would consider offering the Palestinians a state in Gaza.
“If they would agree to receiving a Palestinian state only in Gaza, there would be something to talk about,” he said.
Arafat rejected the proposal.
The killings in Hebron on Sunday were followed by disturbances in the West Bank town of Ramallah, where Israeli soldiers clashed with Palestinian demonstrators demanding the release of fellow Palestinians still held in Israeli jails.
Thirteen Palestinians were detained after they refused to obey army orders to disperse.
The demonstration was one of several protests organized throughout the West Bank and Gaza by an ad hoc group fighting for the prisoners’ release.
Witnesses said several demonstrators were injured during stone-throwing clashes with the army.