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Israeli army kills Hamas activist

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JERUSALEM — Israel's army fired missiles from a hillside position, killing a senior activist from the militant Islamic group Hamas as he drove his car in a West Bank town Wednesday, witnesses and Israeli military officials said.

The activist, Saleh Darwazeh, 38, was alone in his red Volkswagen when it was hit by five rounds in Nablus, the witnesses said. The car was destroyed in the attack, which sent black plumes of smoke rising over the town.

Palestinian ambulances rushed to the scene and recovered the body, which was torn to pieces by the force of the blast.

"This assassination is intended to hit the (Palestinian) uprising with the aim of stopping it," said Jamal Salim, a Hamas spokesman in Nablus. "Hamas will not hesitate to respond to this brutal crime."

Darwazeh belonged to Hamas' political wing, and was not part of the military arm, said Salim, adding that he had been arrested several times previously by Israel.

Israel's army described Darwazeh as a "senior terrorist" who was involved in the planning of multiple attacks that killed eight Israelis and wounded more than 100 in recent months.

Several Palestinians near the scene said initially that they believed an Israeli tank fired shells. But Israeli military sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, said ground-to-ground anti-tank missiles were used.

Hamas has carried out repeated bomb attacks against Israeli targets during the current uprising and says it will continue its campaign despite a cease-fire declared last month.

Israel has often carried out targeted attacks against suspected Palestinian militants, a policy that has drawn widespread international criticism. Palestinians say more than 30 people have been killed in such attacks since the current wave of violence erupted last September.

Israel says it carries out the assaults because the Palestinian Authority has refused to crack down on militants waging attacks against Israel.

Israel has demanded that the Palestinian Authority, led by Yasser Arafat, arrest dozens of suspected militants. But Palestinians security chiefs have said they have no intention to do so amid the current conflict.

The two sides were scheduled to have a security meeting Wednesday night, and the Palestinians said they would present Israel with a list of 50 suspected Israeli militants that they want arrested.

"We will not let (Jewish) settlers in the West Bank and Gaza Strip kill and terrorize our people," Palestinian intelligence chief Tawfiq Tirawi told the Palestinian newspaper Al-Ayyam.

Jewish extremists are suspected in a shooting attack Thursday in which three Palestinians, including a baby, were killed. The attackers apparently escaped from the West Bank into Israel, but no arrests have been made.

Raanan Gissin, an aide to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, dismissed the list as a Palestinian publicity stunt.

In violence Tuesday near the Gaza-Egypt border, a 10-year-old Palestinian boy was critically wounded by Israeli gunfire, doctors said. The Israeli military said Palestinians fired guns and threw 13 grenades at an army post, and soldiers fired back.

Also Tuesday, a pregnant Israeli woman was killed near the West Bank settlement of Immanuel after a Palestinian taxi driver swerved after his car was hit by a stone, Israeli police spokesman Rafi Yaffe said.

It was not clear if Israelis or Palestinians threw the stone, he said. The taxi driver was injured and could not immediately answer police questions.

Since violence began in September, more than 500 people have been killed on the Palestinian side and more than 100 on the Israeli side.