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Palestinian officials: IDF kills 2 Al Aqsa members


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Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades
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NABLUS, West Bank (CNN) -- Israeli military forces killed two Palestinian members of the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades in separate incidents Sunday in Balata, a refugee camp in Nablus, Palestinian officials said.

Israel Defense Forces said both men were associated with attacks against Israelis.

In the first incident, Israeli soldiers patrolling the refugee camp heard shots and saw two armed men, the IDF said. The Israeli soldiers then fired in their direction and hit them both, according to the IDF.

Mohammad Oweiss, a 21-year-old man wanted for his activities with Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, died from his wounds, the IDF said. The fate of the other shot man was unknown, according to the IDF.

The Palestine Red Crescent Society confirmed the Israeli military had entered Nablus and killed Oweiss.

Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades is a military offshoot of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement that has carried out numerous attacks against military targets and civilians in Israel and in Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Gaza. The U.S. State Department designates it a foreign terrorist organization.

Later Sunday, at Oweiss' funeral, nearby Israeli forces clashed with Palestinians, some of whom threw rocks and others who carried M-16 and AK-47 rifles, Palestinian leaders at the refugee camp said.

In those clashes, one of the armed Palestinians, 22-year-old Rihad Abu Shallal, was killed, the Palestinian leaders said.

An Israeli army spokeswoman said soldiers returned fire at an armed Palestinian who had fired at Israeli troops.

The Israeli army said Shallal was an operative of the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades. Israeli security sources said he was responsible for a December attack on Orthodox Jews who entered Nablus to pray at a holy site.

Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades claimed responsibility for a February 22 suicide bombing of a crowded Jerusalem bus that killed eight people. (Full story)

The Israeli military attacks on Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades came a day after an Israeli military helicopter attack killed three "senior members of the Islamic Jihad military wing who were planning murderous attacks against civilian and military targets," the IDF said. (Full story)

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 past terror attacks on Israeli civilians and is designated a terrorist organization by the U.S. State Department.

The latest round of violence followed a spate of incidents Friday.

In Jerusalem, two Israeli motorists, a man and a woman, were shot and killed late Friday, apparently by Palestinian gunmen, Israeli officials said.

The roadside shooting was near the southern West Bank settlement of Eshkolot, Israeli emergency services and military officials said.

Eshkolot is close to the Green Line dividing Israel and the West Bank. Military officials said the shooting took place within Israeli territory.

Earlier Friday in Jerusalem, Israeli police used stun grenades in an attempt to disperse hundreds of Palestinians throwing stones at the Temple Mount, a holy site. Police said there were no injuries and no damage.

Some of the stones landed near and went over the Western Wall, where Jews pray. Jews know the religious landmark as Temple Mount; Muslims call it al-Haram al-Sharif, the "Noble Sanctuary."

Ariel Sharon visited the site in September 2000 before he was elected Israeli prime minister, saying he came with a message of peace. But some Palestinians viewed his visit as a provocation, sparking the latest Palestinian uprising.

In Gaza Friday, a Palestinian cyclist died when the explosives he was carrying detonated outside the Jewish settlement of Kfar Darom, an Israeli army spokesman said. No other injuries were reported.

The explosives apparently detonated prematurely as the cyclist was on his way to carry out an attack, the Israeli spokesman said.

Elsewhere in Gaza, Israeli troops found a 115-foot (35-meter) tunnel two Palestinian militants used Thursday to enter an industrial area near the Erez crossing that separates northern Gaza from Israel.

The militants killed an Israeli reserve soldier before Israeli forces shot and killed the two gunmen, the Israel Defense Forces said.

Ra'anan Gissin, a spokesman for Sharon, said despite Sharon's pledge to withdraw from Gaza -- a step included in the so-called road map to Mideast peace -- the army would continue to strike those planning attacks against Israelis.

The plan -- backed by the United States, Russia, the United Nations and the European Union -- calls for steps by both sides aimed at ending the conflict and the establishment of an independent Palestinian state by 2005.

Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmad Qorei denounced Saturday's attack as a "crime."

"This is to destroy the possibility of any kind of cease-fire," he said, speaking in Ramallah, West Bank. "They are pushing the situation to more escalation."

An Israeli-Palestinian cease-fire also is one of the steps included in the road map for peace.

CNN's Yoav Appel, Sausan Ghosheh and Shira Medding contributed to this report.


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