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Israeli raid kills Fatah activist in Gaza

JERUSALEM (CNN) -- Israeli forces targeted Palestinian police offices and killed a Fatah activist in Gaza on Wednesday. In the West Bank a clash killed at least four Palestinians.

The Israel Defense Forces said Wednesday it spotted "terror cells engaged in mortar bombings" near the refugee camp of El-Bureij in Gaza and attacked two cars with helicopter gunships.

The raid killed Billal al-Ghoul, a 23-year-old Fatah activist and member of the Palestinian Preventative Security Service, Palestinian hospital sources reported.

The IDF said the attack came as part of normal operations in Gaza. Palestinian sources called the attack an assassination. Israeli sources said Al-Ghoul's father, Adnan al-Ghoul, is known to be an explosives expert working for the militant Islamic group Hamas.

Israel has an "active self-defense" policy of intercepting and killing terrorists it says are on their way to attack Israelis. The Palestinians say the policy amounts to state-sponsored terrorism.

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In a separate incident, Palestinian security sources said Mahmud Jasser, a police bomb disposal officer, was killed trying to defuse an explosive device near Rafah, on the border with Egypt. The IDF said it was checking the report.

The bloodiest clash of the day came in the West Bank town of Betiba, west of Nablus, where at least four Palestinians died. The Palestine Red Crescent Society reported four were killed. Israeli military authorities put the number of dead at five.

The dead were identified by the Red Crescent as Hakam Shaade Ikbala, 22; Fedi Ibrahim Semani, 25; Zeher Fawzi Ismail, 30; and Ahed Mahmoud Ferez, in his 20s. Palestinian and Israeli sources differed widely on how they were killed.

Palestinian security sources reported heavy artillery and machine gun fire north of Nablus. The Red Crescent described the bodies as being "full of bullets." The group said three of the bodies had been hit in the back with something sharp, possibly an ax.

Palestinian sources said three of the bodies had crushed skulls and showed evidence of upper body torture.

The Israeli military denied involvement in any torture and told a much different story of the encounter:

Around midnight, an Israeli military patrol spotted people it called "terrorists" planting a bomb along a road northeast of Nablus near Shazei Shomron, an Israeli military source said.

The troops opened fire and wounded the men, killing one of them. A Palestinian ambulance came to their aid, and local villagers came to the scene.

In the confusion, shooting started, a military source said. A firefight ensued that resulted in the deaths of the other men, according to the Israeli military.

There were several other incidents in the West Bank and Gaza. Among them:

-- Israeli forces fired rockets at a Palestinian police building in Gaza after the police refused to stop the firing of mortars at a Jewish settlement at Gush Katif, the IDF said.

-- Palestinian security officials said a police station and a national security building were damaged at Qarara, between Der Al Balah and Khan Unis. They said eight people were hurt and described their injuries as light to moderate.

-- In the West Bank, Israeli tanks and jeeps entered a Palestinian-controlled area west of Jenin and destroyed a Palestinian security outpost, said Fayez Arafat, the Jenin police chief. The Israelis withdrew after exchanging fire with the Palestinians, Arafat said.

The outpost was near the village of Arabeh, an area that has been under Palestinian control since 1995. The IDF said the incursion was in reaction to a shooting that wounded two Israelis near Tulkarem.

-- The IDF said its forces razed a Palestinian police barrier where Palestinians had been shooting. They said the barrier is near the village of Arava, which is under full Palestinian control.

About 700 people have died in Israeli-Palestinian violence that began after peace talks stalled last September.






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