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Israeli police intercept Palestinian with a bomb

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JERUSALEM — Israeli police wrestled a suspected Palestinian suicide bomber to the ground and seized a bag packed with explosives and nails Wednesday, officials said. In a separate incident, Israeli troops shot dead a Palestinian woman trying to avoid an army checkpoint on her way to work, doctors said.

The two confrontations kept tensions running high and there was little optimism that a Mideast cease-fire declared a month ago would end the nearly 10 months of fighting.

Israeli security forces are on high alert to prevent attacks by militants, but Palestinians complain that the Israelis treat all Palestinians as suspects.

In the northern Israeli town of Afula, police jumped on a suspected Palestinian suicide bomber and grabbed a bag packed with explosives and nails from him as he tried unsuccessfully to detonate the bomb Wednesday, officials said.

Police sealed off the city and asked residents to remain indoors while security forces searched for the man's suspected accomplice.

The incident began when three plainclothes detectives in an unmarked car noticed a Palestinian man acting suspiciously, said police spokesman Yaron Zamir.

When a policeman yelled at the man, he began running. Three detectives jumped on the man and threw him to the ground as he pressed a switch in his hand, apparently trying to detonate the bomb in the bag.

Experts were called to the scene and later safely detonated a pipe bomb that contained nails and screws for greater deadliness.

The bomb was set to go off when the detonator was pressed and not by remote control or timer, evidence that the Palestinian intended to blow up himself with the device, Zamir said. The suspect was a 30-year-old Palestinian from the West Bank town of Jenin.

"A great disaster was prevented," Zamir said. "This is the first time that police forces managed to overpower a suicide bomber with an explosive and detonator in his hands."

Meanwhile, outside the West Bank town of Hebron, Rasmia Jabarin, a 38-year-old mother of two, was shot while traveling in a car on a back road in an attempt to avoid an Israeli army checkpoint and reach her job on an Israeli farm, Palestinians said.

She was evacuated to Israel's Soroka Hospital in Beersheba, but died of her wounds, hospital doctors said. Israel's army said it was checking out the report.

Israeli army checkpoints prevent most Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip from entering Israel. Israel says the blockades are necessary to guard against attacks, while the Palestinians call it collective punishment that prevents some 100,000 Palestinians from reaching their jobs.

Also Wednesday, a Palestinian suspected of collaborating with Israel's security forces was shot dead outside his home in the West Bank town of Qalqilya.

Zahir Assaf, 30, was arrested by the Palestinian Authority in 1996 and held for five months for allegedly working with the Israelis. Assaf, who was hit by seven bullets, had resumed cooperation with Israel, according to Palestinian security sources who spoke on condition of anonymity.

On Tuesday, Israeli tanks and bulldozers rumbled into the Rafah refugee camp in the southern Gaza Strip and destroyed a row of houses. The Israelis said the homes were used by Palestinian militants as cover for daily gunfire and grenade attacks on the army position.

Palestinian officials said about 160 people were made homeless in the operation. An area about a 500 yards square was flattened.

For the second day in a row Tuesday, U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher criticized Israeli destruction of Palestinian houses as "highly provocative."

On Monday, Boucher spoke against the tearing down of 14 houses in the Shuafat refugee camp on the northern edge of Jerusalem.

Meanwhile, Israeli police said the killings of two Israelis in April, believed to be criminal attacks at the time, are now regarded as politically motivated following investigations.

The changes bring the death toll to 513 on the Palestinian side and 124 on the Israeli side since fighting began last September.