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Sources: Palestinian security forces launch crackdown

Smuggling tunnels closed, gun merchant raided, they say

Palestinian police pour concrete to seal what they say is an illegal tunnel in Gaza on Saturday.
Palestinian police pour concrete to seal what they say is an illegal tunnel in Gaza on Saturday.

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Israel insists on a Palestinian crackdown.
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Israeli missile attack kills Hamas leader Ismail Abu Shanab.
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Excerpt from a 2002 CNN interview with Hamas founder Ismail Abu Shanab.
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GAZA CITY (CNN) -- In a move against criminal activity by militant groups, Palestinian security forces have closed four tunnels used for smuggling contraband from Egypt and raided a gun merchant in Rafah, Palestinian sources said Sunday.

The action comes in the wake of a bloody week in the region.

A suicide bus bombing killed at least 21 people, including at least four children, Tuesday in Jerusalem. More than 130 were wounded in the attack. The military wing of Hamas and Islamic Jihad each claimed responsibility. Both groups have carried out numerous attacks on Israeli civilians and military targets in the past and have been labeled terrorist organizations by the U.S. State Department.

In retaliation, the Israelis struck and killed Hamas leader Ismail Abu Shanab two days later. Three Israeli missiles hit the car carrying Abu Shanab and his bodyguards Thursday as they drove through the Rimal neighborhood of Gaza City. The two bodyguards were also killed.

The Palestinian security forces have taken over security measures in the region from the Israelis as part of the so-called "road map" to peace, a plan backed by the Mideast Quartet, made up of the United States, the United Nations, Russia and the European Union.

It is aimed at resolving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and establishing a Palestinian state by 2005.

However, after the funeral of Abu Shanab on Friday, many Palestinians fired gunshots into the air and chanted angry messages against Israel, which remains on high alert, fearing a retaliatory attack for Abu Shanab's killing.

Speakers used public address systems to urge the Palestinian Authority to break off talks with Israel. Crowds chanted "The road map is dead," "It is time for martyrdom," and "It is time for revenge."

The Palestinian Authority sanctioned Saturday's raids to thwart the smuggling of weapons, the sources said.

Eight people were arrested in the operation, according to the sources.

"This is just the tip of the iceberg," a senior Palestinian security source said.

A warren of tunnels near the Egypt-Gaza border is regularly used to smuggle arms and other contraband. The Israeli army routinely shuts or destroys the tunnels.

In Rafah, Palestinian police raided at least one gun merchant, the sources said. During the search, a gun seller threw a hand grenade at police, but there were no injuries.

A bomb exploded on this double-length bus on August 19 in the crowded, largely ultra-Orthodox Jewish neighborhood of Mea Shearim near the border between east and west Jerusalem.
A bomb exploded on this double-length bus on August 19 in the crowded, largely ultra-Orthodox Jewish neighborhood of Mea Shearim near the border between east and west Jerusalem.

Rafah residents told CNN that they were pleased by the raids because they were being conducted by Palestinian security forces.

"It's better than the Israeli army coming in to close it," one resident said. "When they close it, they will destroy my home -- and not only my home, [but] they will destroy two, three houses besides my home."

Israel kills Al Aqsa Brigades member

On Friday, Israeli soldiers killed one member of the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades and wounded two others in a clash at the main hospital in the West Bank city of Nablus, Palestinian sources said.

The Israel Defense Forces said Israeli troops went to the Rafidiyah Hospital, where the militants had been holed up on the roof for several days, using the hospital as shelter. The IDF said the militants were stationed two floors above the maternity ward.

"In the framework of Israeli security forces activity against terrorist infrastructure in the city of Nablus, Israeli security forces opened fire at the terrorist cell," the IDF said. "A number of terrorists were hit."

The IDF said all those involved were wanted by Israel for alleged involvement in shooting attacks and in a suicide bombing August 12 that killed one Israeli.

A call for U.S. observation units

Ahead of the Palestinian Authority's meeting with an Egyptian representative Friday, Palestinian Cabinet member Yasser Abed Rabbo called for a "strong American role -- stronger than before."

Rabbo has asked the United States to station observation units in the region. He has also asked the United States to send a message urging Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to give the Palestinian Authority a chance to control security.

"The Americans should tell everybody and Sharon himself, they should respect completely the road map," Rabbo said. "Implement it all, without preconditions, without excuses and without delay."

"If this happens, perhaps, we can resume things the way they were."

Israel should have allowed the Palestinian Authority to follow through on its plans to crack down on the terror groups before launching the missile strike on Abu Shanab, Rabbo said.

CNN correspondent Michael Holmes and producer Talal Abu Rahma contributed to this report.

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