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Top Palestinian militant killed in gun battle

A soldier searches in the house of Iyad Sawalcha.

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JENIN, West Bank (CNN) -- Israeli forces shot and killed a top Islamic militant early Saturday after he opened fire on them in the old city of Jenin, according to Israeli and Palestinian sources.

The Israel Defense Forces were trying to arrest Iyad Sawalcha, 28, when he opened fire from inside a house and threw a hand grenade, injuring two Israeli soldiers, according to Israeli military sources. The forces returned fire, killing him, the sources said.

Palestinian security sources confirmed that Sawalcha was killed by the IDF, and said he was the head of the military wing of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad in Jenin.

Palestinian Islamic Jihad is a militant group dedicated to the creation of an Islamic Palestinian state and the destruction of Israel. The group has carried out attacks against Israeli soldiers and civilians and the U.S. Department of State lists it as a terrorist organization.

Later in the day, an Israeli soldier was killed and another was wounded when an explosive device on a road was activated while the two were on patrol, the Israeli military said.

The Islamic Jihad organization said the attack was in response to the Sawalcha's killing, according to Ha'aretz, an Israeli daily newspaper.

The dead Israeli soldier was identified as Medin Grifat, 23, of Bet Zarzir.

The other soldier, who was classified as moderately wounded, received first aid at the scene and was transferred to a hospital.

Report: Sawalcha behind suicide attacks

Ha'aretz reported Saturday that the IDF believed Sawalcha was responsible for several deadly terror attacks -- including suicide bombings at Karkur and Megido junctions in northern Israel earlier this year, which left 31 Israelis dead and 89 wounded.

Sawalcha was a former Fatah activist, and spent time in an Israeli prison for the killing of Palestinian collaborators. He was released in 1998, and at the beginning of the intifada in 2000, he joined the ranks of the Islamic Jihad, according to Ha'aretz.

The newspaper also reported that Sawalcha's mother and sister had been arrested Friday by the Shin Bet security services.

The IDF said that Sawalcha had been in charge of the organization's operations in the West Bank cities of Jenin and Nablus for the past six months, and was one of the main targets of IDF operations in Jenin, which began two weeks ago.

The Palestinian Islamic Jihad operates out of Gaza and carries out attacks in Gaza, the West Bank and Israel.

There are different groups called Islamic Jihad in different Arab countries. They have no connection with each other and there is no coordination or planning among them.

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