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Sunday, 30 June, 2002, 22:31 GMT 23:31 UK
Israeli army kills 'Hamas commander'
Israeli special forces have shot dead a senior commander of the militant group Hamas, Muhannad Taher, who they say was chief of the group's military operations in the West Bank town of Nablus.


A second man was killed and another seriously wounded in the Israeli action - an army spokesman said they had met armed resistance.

The killings came as construction began in Jerusalem of a new electronic security fence that will eventually stretch 50 kilometres (30 miles).

The fence is intended to protect Jerusalem against Palestinian attacks from the West Bank.

Meanwhile, the first two of 10 Jewish outposts in the West Bank were dismantled following orders from the Israeli Defence Minister, Binyamin Ben-Eliezer.

Wanted

Muhannad Taher was killed in a gunfight after elite Israeli commandos surrounded his home in Nablus.

The Israelis say Mr Taher was their only target, but during the shooting a second Hamas member was also killed. A third militant was wounded and arrested.

Muhannad Taher was on Israel's most-wanted list - the Israelis says he was involved in the planning of suicide bomb attacks in Israel, in which more than 100 people died.

The "targeted killing" of Mr Taher came as Israel on Sunday continued its military offensive in the West Bank.

All men aged between 15 and 55 in the Al-Amari refugee camp near Ramallah were rounded up for questioning.

A number of them were arrested.

Construction work

The Jerusalem security fence had been planned for some time, but the project was brought forward because of recent Palestinian Suicide attacks.


Reports say the fence covers the three sides of Jerusalem - north, south and east - that border the West Bank.

Israeli Defence Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer attended a ceremony to launch the building work.

Bulldozers were already levelling a small hill to make way for the fence.

In places the fence will be 4.5 metres (about 15 feet) high.

Its section for the northern and southern ends of the city will be completed within three months, Defence Ministry official Amos Yaron said.

The barrier along the east side of the city will be left for later, because it "is much more complicated" with many Palestinian neighbourhoods in the area, Mr Yaron said.

Outposts removed

Also on Sunday, the first two of 10 Jewish outposts in the West Bank were dismantled, in line with orders announced by Mr Ben-Eliezer.


The small communities, unauthorised by the Israeli Government, have grown up close to approved Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

About 200,000 Jewish settlers live in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, although their settlements are illegal under international law.

The settlers - many of whom say they have a biblical right to the land - have condemned the defence minister's decision.

The Yesha Council of Jewish settlements described the decision as "reward and encouragement for terrorists".

A BBC correspondent in Jerusalem, Claire Marshall, says Mr Ben-Eliezer's motivation for removing the outposts now is unclear.

It could be a government crackdown, given their illegal status, or it could be an attempt by Mr Ben-Eliezer, who is leader of the traditionally left-of-centre Labour party, to appear as a moderate.

Militants not found

Mr Ben-Eliezer has spearheaded the current military campaign, which has seen the Israeli army take control of seven of the eight main towns in the West Bank, and confine more than 700,000 Palestinians to their homes.

The Israeli incursions, which have only spared Jericho, are in response for two devastating Palestinian suicide bomb attacks that killed 26 Israelis in Jerusalem over a week ago.

In Hebron, Israeli troops and bulldozers have continued searching through the rubble of the Palestinian Authority's local headquarters, which they blew up in two huge explosions on Friday night.

So far no trace has been found of 15 wanted Palestinian militants who were believed to be hiding inside.

Palestinian officials said the militants had escaped, while the Israelis indicated that their bodies might be buried in the rubble.

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 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Claire Marshall
"It does seem that this was indeed a targeted killing"

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