JERUSALEM — A Palestinian militant from the Hamas group blew himself up while trying to plant a bomb along a road used frequently by Israelis in the West Bank, Israel said Thursday. Hamas said he died under “heroic” circumstances.
Though casualties have been low on both sides of the Mideast conflict in recent days, Israel says the Palestinians have failed to arrest militants and meet other commitments under a truce reached three weeks ago.
Israel has been “compelled to deal with Palestinian terrorism directly and use all means at its disposal in order to foil planned attacks,” a government statement said. In the latest incident, the dismembered body of 22-year-old Hamas activist Hani Rawajbeh was found early Thursday near a road used by Israeli soldiers and Jewish settlers. A soldier was slightly wounded Wednesday in a bomb explosion on the road.
Hamas said in a statement that Rawajbeh died while carrying out a “heroic operation,” but did not give details. Hamas has planted numerous roadside bombs in the past year of Israeli-Palestinian fighting, and a number of Hamas activists have been killed by explosives that went off prematurely.
Israel, meanwhile, cut the list of Palestinian militants it has demanded the Palestinians arrest from 108 to just four “of the highest priority.”
An Israeli statement said the Palestinians had arrested only two of the four. However, one of those Israel said was still at large, Atef Abbayat, has been in Palestinian police custody in Bethlehem, according to Palestinian security officials.
In violence Thursday, two Palestinians were wounded, one seriously, when their car was fired on in the West Bank. Palestinians said Israelis fired on the car, according to Army Radio. The military said it was checking the report. Both Palestinian and Israeli vehicles have been hit by gunfire in the area in recent months.
In the Gaza Strip, Palestinian police released dozens of protesters detained this week during a violent anti-U.S. rally, Hamas said.
Two people were killed and dozens were hurt during the confrontation Monday, when Palestinian police exchanged gunfire with protesters from the Islamic University in Gaza City, many of them Hamas supporters who denounced the U.S. bombing campaign in Afghanistan and expressed support for suspected terrorist Osama bin Laden. It was the worst internal Palestinian fighting in years.
Islamic University student council member Imad al-Faid said those responsible for the gunfire should be put on trial. “We have a legitimate right to demonstrate and to express our view in support of our Muslim brothers suffering from American aggression,” said al-Faid, 21, a Hamas member. “We are suffering from the same aggression,” he said.
Monday’s confrontation increased tensions between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority, led by Yasser Arafat. The Palestinian leader says he is committed to a Sept. 26 cease-fire reached with Israel, though Hamas and other militant Palestinian groups have refused to honor the truce.
Speaking Thursday on a visit to Greece, Arafat said, “We will not allow any extremist groups to break up national unity.”
He also accused Israel of the “worst kind of terrorism” in its occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
According to a poll published Thursday, 57 percent of Palestinians oppose the truce deal, while 39 percent support it.
In addition, almost 90 percent of Palestinians oppose U.S. airstrikes against Afghanistan, while 26 percent believe last month’s terror attacks on the United States were consistent with Islamic law, the poll found.
The survey was conducted by the West Bank’s Bir Zeit University, which said it was the first poll in the Arab world gauging public opinion in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terror attacks.
The survey, which polled 1,200 Palestinians and had a margin of error of 3 percent, was conducted before U.S. attacks on Afghanistan began Sunday.