JERUSALEM, March 2 (JTA) — At least three Palestinian militants were killed when Israeli commandos descended on an explosives-laden hideout in an Arab town in northern Israel.
Prime Minister Ehud Barak said the actions of the Israeli anti-terror squad Thursday prevented a major terrorist attack aimed at sabotaging the already faltering peace process.
The militants were members of Hamas, according to Deputy Defense Minister Ephraim Sneh, who said they planned to “inflict very heavy casualties” by launching a bomb attack within Israel.
Public Security Minister Shlomo Ben-Ami spoke of “cooperation” with Palestinian officials, suggesting that Israeli security officials had been tipped off by their Palestinian counterparts.
Ben-Ami linked the raids to two other recent alerts of possible terror attacks — one in Jerusalem, the other in Netanya — both of which were stopped in the planning stages.
Before dawn, the commandos surrounded the two-story hideout, located in the village of Taiba, north of Tel Aviv.
When they ordered the militants to come out, one emerged and was taken into custody.
Then another two emerged: one wielding a pistol, the other carrying a suitcase filled with explosives.
The pistol-carrying Palestinian opened fire, and the Israeli forces returned fire.
In the exchange, the suitcase blew up, killing both militants.
A member of the Israeli squad had his foot amputated after he was injured by the explosion.
Throughout the day, Israeli forces remained at their positions surrounding the house and were posted on rooftops of neighboring buildings. A helicopter buzzed overhead.
Immediately after the shootout, the commandos sent a bomb-sniffing dog inside the building. It died almost immediately in an explosion.
At midday, the commandos found the body of another militant inside, and the security forces believed a fifth was still in the building.
Believing another member of the terror cell was still at large, Israeli police and army troops set up roadblocks in Israeli Arab towns and at sites across the West Bank.
The building owner who rented out the apartment did not know the identities of the five, according to a friend of the owner.
The mayor of Taiba later said he was convening a town meeting to persuade local residents not to rent apartments to outsiders without conducting a background check.
“The incident has nothing to do with Taiba at all,” said Mayor Issam Massawa. “I hope that the Israeli radical right does not use this against Arab Israelis.”
Two terror attacks carried out last year by Israeli Arabs prompted speculation that they were being recruited by Hamas militants.