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Israel searches for bus attackers

Israeli authorities sealed off a bus ambushed Tuesday near the Jewish settlement of Emanuel in the West Bank.
Israeli authorities sealed off a bus ambushed Tuesday near the Jewish settlement of Emanuel in the West Bank.  

EMANUEL, West Bank (CNN) -- A suspected Palestinian militant and an Israeli soldier were killed in a gunbattle Wednesday near this West Bank settlement as Israeli troops searched for Palestinians believed to have a carried out a bloody attack on a bus a day earlier.

Three other Israeli troops were wounded in what the Israel Defense Forces described as a "heavy exchange of fire." The IDF said one Palestinian escaped and that Israeli forces, including attack helicopters, were still searching the area for terrorists.

A few hours later, Israeli troops and tanks entered Seelat ad-Daha near the West Bank city of Jenin and surrounded a house where four to five Palestinians were believed holed up, Palestinian security sources said.

Israeli military sources said the fighting was heavy as troops entered the village to make arrests acting on intelligence gathered as part of its anti-terrorism campaign. IDF sources said one Palestinian was killed and three others wounded.

In Tel Aviv Wednesday evening, two suicide bombers detonated explosives, killing at least three people and wounding more than 40. Palestinian Islamic Jihad, a militant group dedicated to the creation of an Islamic Palestinian state and the destruction of Israel, claimed responsibility. It has been designated a terrorist group by the U.S. State Department. (Full story)

Gallery: Scenes from the ambush 
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  •  Palestinian politics
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  •  Gallery: Palestinian fatalities
  •  Victims of terror
  • Orchestrating a common ground

The military actions came after Israeli Defense Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer visited the scene of Tuesday's attack near Nablus and vowed that those responsible would be arrested. (More on bus assault)

"One thing I can promise you: We will catch them all," Ben-Eliezer said.

Eight people were killed in the assault. The victims included three family members traveling together, the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs reported.

Nine-month-old Tiferet Sarah Shilon, her father, Gal Shilon, 35, and the baby's grandmother Zilpa Kashi, 65, of Givatayim perished in the attack.

According to the Israeli ministry, the attack also claimed the lives of Galila Ades, 46, of Emanuel, Yonatan Gamliel, 16, of Emanuel, Karen Kashani, 20, of Emanuel, Ilana Siton, 35, of Emanuel, and an infant born after his mother, Yehudit Weinberg, sustained serious injuries. (More on the victims)

The Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades (an offshoot of Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat's Fatah party), the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, and Hamas (a Palestinian fundamentalist organization) all claimed responsibility for the bus attack. The U.S. State Department has designated all three as terrorist organizations.

In Ramallah Wednesday, undercover Israeli troops arrested Sabi abu Hamed, a leader in the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades.

Political efforts

On the political front, Arab leaders have agreed to use their influence behind the scenes with various extremist groups to urge them to end the nearly two years of suicide attacks, senior U.S. officials and Arab leaders told CNN.

The leaders plan to argue that terrorist attacks are "not going to help" win a Palestinian state and instead will only "add to the misery of the Palestinian people," in the words of one senior Arab official.

In New York, representatives of the so-called "Madrid quartet" -- the United States, United Nations, European Union and Russia -- were meeting with the foreign ministers of Egypt and Jordan and the Saudi representative to the United Nations.

The meeting was aimed at flushing out the specifics of the Middle East vision President Bush laid out last month.

Despite broad consensus about the creation of a Palestinian state within three years, the United States differed sharply with other members of the quartet on the fate of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and whether security improvement was necessary before Israel must take steps to improve the living conditions for Palestinians. (Full story)

A senior aide said Wednesday that Arafat was considering appointing a prime minister after a Palestinian state is declared.

"This is not a new notion," said Nabil abu Rudeineh. "Once there is no occupation and a Palestinian state is declared, we will have a structure of a state and that includes appointing a prime minister."

The remark was considered significant because both Israel and the United States have said they will no longer deal with Arafat. The United States has been pushing for the appointment of a prime minister as part of the reform of Palestinian Authority.

U.S. Ambassador to Israel Daniel Kurtzer said the Palestinians have the right to choose leaders, but the United States has the right to choose whom it will work with.

Other bloodshed Wednesday:

  • Near Qalqilya, on the West Bank, two Palestinians tried to break through a military checkpoint, Israeli military sources said. One was shot dead and the other was wounded and escaped.
  • In central Gaza, the IDF said it launched several airstrikes Wednesday evening on a welding factory that it said belonged to Hamas and produced weapons, including mortar bombs and various kinds of rockets, for the Nuseirat and Dir al-Balah refugee camps. Local Palestinian sources reported one missile struck a metal shop in the Maghazi refugee camp.
  • Since January, more than 230 Israelis have been killed in terror attacks on civilian targets.

    In recent weeks, responding to the escalation in terrorist attacks, Israel reoccupied some Palestinian regions for what it calls security purposes.

    -- CNN's Mike Hanna and John Vause contributed to this report.




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