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Last Updated: Monday, 15 May 2006, 12:05 GMT 13:05 UK
Peretz praises W Bank operation
Grieving relatives of Palestinians killed in Qabatiya by the Israeli army
The bloodshed was the worst in the West Bank since February
Israeli Defence Minister Amir Peretz has praised a military raid on Sunday which triggered the bloodiest violence in weeks in the occupied West Bank.

Six Palestinians, two of them leaders of the hardline Islamic Jihad faction, were shot dead by Israeli troops.

"The operation in Qabatiya was an important achievement in the war against terrorism," Mr Peretz said.

Jihad members vowed further suicide bombings in Israel and "to face aggression until we are victorious".

Israeli troops frequently launch raids in the West Bank against suspected militants.

In a separate incident on Sunday, a Palestinian security guard was killed by Israeli forces near the Palestinian Authority intelligence headquarters in Jenin.

Personal approval

Among the dead in Qabatiya was Elias Ashkar, a leader of Jihad's armed wing who Israel said was behind the last eight suicide attacks launched by the group that killed more than 20 people.

Dozens of terrorists opened fire. It is impossible to say, under these conditions, that no innocent civilian was hurt
Col Ertzi Halevy
Israeli Defense Force

The operation "goes along with our policy, according to which we will continue to fight terror while easing the conditions on the Palestinian public", Mr Peretz said in quotes carried by Haaretz newspaper.

The defence minister, who is head of the centre-left Labour party, said he personally approved the Qabatiya raid and followed its execution closely.

Islamic Jihad condemned the minister, saying he was "even worse" than his right-wing predecessor, former army chief Shaul Mofaz.

Some Israeli commentators had criticised Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's appointment of Mr Peretz, a former union leader who has had little experience of security matters.

Demolished

The commander of the special unit which conducted the operation told Israeli army radio that Mr Ashkar had been preparing an attack on Israel when he was killed.

Resident of Qabatiya throws stones
Some Qabatiya residents threw stones at the Israeli soldiers

Col Ertzi Halevy said Palestinian gunmen opened fire at the Israeli troops and they returned fire. He admitted it was not possible to ascertain how many of the casualties may have been civilians.

After the gunfight an armoured bulldozer demolished the house where Mr Ashkar had been holed up and his and another militant's bodies were removed by troops.

Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas condemned the operation as a "crime" that would cause more violence and instability.

In a separate development, a US teenager died of his wounds from a suicide bombing in Tel Aviv on Sunday and is being flown back to Florida for burial.

Daniel Wultz's death raised the number of people killed in the bombing - which was claimed by Islamic Jihad - to 11.


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