Facebook Twitter

Palestinian militia chief killed

SHARE Palestinian militia chief killed

TULKAREM, West Bank — A Palestinian militia leader who admitted killing Israelis and survived an Israeli missile attack on his car last year was killed in a bomb explosion outside his West Bank hide-out Monday.

Palestinian officials accused Israel of planting the bomb to sabotage truce efforts. Israel refused to comment on the Palestinian allegations but said the militia leader, Raed Karmi, 27, was responsible for the shooting deaths of nine Israelis.

"A man like this is like a ticking bomb," Israeli Transport Minister Ephraim Sneh told Army Radio. "He who lives by the sword, dies by the sword."

Israel has killed dozens of suspected Palestinian militants — and several bystanders — in targeted attacks in the past 16 months of fighting. The killings — condemned by the United States — were intended as a deterrent, but they often trigger Palestinian revenge attacks.

Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, meanwhile, said Israel has decided to stop demolishing Palestinian homes in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The decision came after stormy debate in Israel over the army's demolition of dozens of buildings in the Rafah refugee camp in Gaza last week. U.N. officials have said the Israeli raid left hundreds of Palestinians homeless. The Israeli military contends the buildings served as cover for gunmen and arms smugglers.

The demolition ban does not apply to Arab neighborhoods of east Jerusalem, where nine Palestinian homes were razed Monday because they were built without permits.

Palestinians say building permits are a tool for population control and that the Jerusalem municipality rarely grants them to Arab residents. The Palestinians want to establish a capital in east Jerusalem, which Israel captured in the 1967 Mideast war and annexed to its capital.

Karmi, the apparent target of Monday's explosion in the West Bank town of Tulkarem, was the local leader of the Al Aqsa Brigades, a group of gunmen linked to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement.

Karmi had admitted involvement in shooting attacks on Israelis, including the killings of two Tel Aviv restaurant owners a year ago in Tulkarem. In September, Karmi narrowly escaped death when Israeli helicopters fired missiles at his car, killing two passengers, both members of his militia.

He had just left his Tulkarem hide-out, near the local cemetery, when a bomb hidden near a tree went off, one of his friends said on condition of anonymity. The tree and the wall of the cemetery were damaged.

Karmi's friends carried his body through the streets, clamoring for revenge and firing in the air.

Faeq Kanaan, the Fatah leader in Tulkarem, said Karmi's killing would make it difficult for his group to continue complying with Arafat's Dec. 16 truce call. "We believe the Israelis don't want a truce," Kanaan said.

Israel suspended targeted killings after Arafat declared last month that he would work hard to prevent attacks on Israelis. Past killings of Palestinian militants have triggered revenge attacks and further Israeli reprisals.

Sneh, the Israeli transport minister, said Karmi had ignored the truce efforts and continued to plan attacks. "He was a terrorist of the deadliest kind," Sneh said.

Karmi's killing further undermined U.S. truce efforts, and it was not clear whether U.S. mediator Anthony Zinni would return to the region this week.

After an attack last week in which Islamic militants killed four Israeli soldiers, breaking several weeks of relative calm, President Bush said he would nonetheless send Zinni to the region for a third time.

Palestinian Cabinet Minister Saeb Erekat accused Israel of trying to sabotage the Zinni's efforts. "The Israeli government is inviting Palestinian reaction, and we hold it (Israel) responsible for the escalation of this cycle."

The office of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon issued a list of attacks Karmi allegedly carried out, most of them roadside shootings in the Tulkarem area. In all, nine Israelis were killed and several seriously injured in the shootings, the statement said. It did not refer to Palestinian allegations that Israel killed Karmi.

Peres said the decision to stop demolishing homes in the West Bank and Gaza was made in a meeting between himself, Sharon and Israeli Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer.

"The prime minister announced that he is in favor of ending the demolition of houses," Peres told reporters. "We learned a lesson and reached the conclusion that this method, the damage it causes is greater than the benefit."

That did not stop Israel from razing nine Palestinian houses Monday in Jerusalem's Issawiyeh neighborhood.

Two of the homes were inhabited, while the others were still under construction or had just been completed, residents said. Israel said all nine houses were built without permits.

Some residents scuffled with police, and some city council members sought a court injunction to prevent the demolition of an additional eight homes in the traditionally Arab neighborhood.

Majda Alayan, 36, said her house was knocked down even though a court had issued an injunction against demolition. Ayalan said she, her husband and five children had just moved into the house, which cost $30,000 to build.

Last year, 37 Palestinian-owned houses were demolished in east Jerusalem, compared to nine houses in 2000.