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Israel says man behind Passover Massacre killed

Nablus Friday
Smoke rises from an Israeli rocket strike in Nablus on Friday.  

RAMALLAH, West Bank (CNN) -- The man Israel blames for the Passover suicide bombing at a Netanya hotel was among six Hamas activists killed in a West Bank helicopter raid Friday, the Israeli military said.

Israeli authorities said Qais Edwan was behind the terror attack that killed 26 people in Netanya on March 27. The Israel Defense Forces said Edwan and five others killed in a strike by Israeli helicopter gunships in the West Bank town of Tubas were members of the Izzedine al Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas.

Hamas is an Islamic fundamentalist group that the U.S. State Department has labeled a terrorist organization. The group claimed responsibility for the Netanya bombing, which ripped through a hotel dining room during a Passover Seder.

Israel says its incursions into the West Bank, now a week old, are meant to uproot "terrorist infrastructure" behind the Netanya bombing and a wave of others that followed. Violence continued throughout the region Friday despite a fresh diplomatic effort that included face-to-face talks in Ramallah between U.S. Middle East envoy Anthony Zinni and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

 Latest developments
 • Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon on Monday accused Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat of betraying promises to work toward peace and said Israel's military mission in West Bank will continue until complete

 • U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said he would meet with Arafat on his Mideast trip "if circumstances permit."

 • An Israeli army spokesman said Sunday he expected the Israeli operations in Nablus and Jenin to end "today or tomorrow."

 • U.S. National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice said President Bush wants Israel to begin its withdrawal "now."

 •  Israel launched air attacks against suspected Hezbollah hideouts in southern Lebanon on Sunday after more attacks on Israeli positions near the Israeli-Lebanon border.

 •  A 27th victim of the Passover suicide bombing in the Israeli coastal town of Netanya has died, Sharon said.

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  •  Gallery: Palestinian fatalities
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Journalists who had gathered to await Zinni's arrival at Arafat's compound said Israeli troops threw stun grenades at them. There were no injuries, and the journalists were then ordered to leave. (Full story)

Some of the heaviest fighting Friday occurred in Nablus, the largest city in the West Bank.

Palestinian police said at least 15 Palestinians, mostly civilians, were killed Friday, basing the count of information gathered from witnesses. Palestinian authorities have confirmed eight deaths.

The deaths were mainly in the old city section of Nablus, as well as the Balata and Asker refugee camps. Palestinian sources said Israeli Apache helicopters fired about 20 missiles Friday morning on the old city, where three homes were reported demolished.

The dead included a 14-year-old Palestinian girl killed by Israeli machine-gun fire in a nearby village, according to the Palestine Red Crescent.

Israeli troops controlled most of the city, and the IDF had made a large number of arrests, witnesses said. Palestinians were using firearms and grenades, and the Israelis were using helicopters, machine guns and tanks.

Cross-border fighting also continued Friday between Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon and Israeli forces.

The IDF said anti-aircraft missiles were fired in the northern Israeli towns of Shlomi and Kiryat Shmona on Friday, and heavy bombardment was reported in areas of Lebanon that are purported hideouts for Hezbollah.

Earlier Friday, Lebanese authorities announced they had detained six Palestinians believed to be responsible for a cross-border rocket attack a day earlier. Lebanese troops continued a massive security sweep Friday of the Middle East nation's Bekaa Valley in search of others preparing attacks on northern Israel, Lebanese security sources said. (Full story)

Israel has been saying in recent days that Syria and Lebanon would face harsh reprisals if the border area explodes in violence once again.

In Bethlehem, four priests Friday came out of the Church of the Nativity, where Israeli soldiers and Palestinians have staged a standoff since Tuesday night.

Sources inside the church said a group of Palestinians sought refuge in the facility, and while the group included Palestinian Authority police carrying "personal weapons," they did not enter to take military action.

The IDF said the church "has been forcibly seized by a group of armed terrorists who have taken hostages, among them members of the clergy." Several Palestinian Authority officials and "terror suspects" were among those inside the complex, the IDF said, citing a "reliable source." But inside the church, the head of a Christian humanitarian group denied anyone was being held hostage.

Palestinian sources said that Israeli forces stormed a Syrian Orthodox Church on Friday afternoon, firing shots and wounding two, both critically. One of the wounded, a member of the preventive security force, was taken into custody by Israel, as were eight others.

The IDF said it is holding 1,200 Palestinian suspects in connection with terrorism, and it has confiscated large quantities of illegal weapons and ammunition.

In Jenin, the IDF said an officer and two soldiers were killed at the refugee camp. Palestinian sources said three Palestinian policemen were killed in the West Bank town.

Seven bystanders -- including 6-year-old Muhammed Sughayyer, now in critical condition -- were hit by a missile fired by an Israeli helicopter early Friday in Hebron, Palestinian sources said. Three adults and three children, ages 8, 12 and 14, were also wounded.




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