Israelis kill three suspected Palestinian militants

The Associated Press

HEBRON, West Bank Israeli security forces ambushed and shot dead three Palestinians on Sunday who the army said were en route to an attack on Israelis.

As the army clamped a curfew on nearby Hebron, leaders and supporters of the Hamas fundamentalist group to which the men belonged said others would take their place attacking Israelis.

''If you think you killed three Hamas people then you are mistaken,'' Marwan Abu Shuker shouted at Israelis checking the bodies. ''We are all Hamas. The whole city is Hamas.''

Abu Shuker, 35, who lives next to the ambush site, said the Israelis were dressed as Arabs and ambushed the men as they drove through an olive grove, firing ''until they were sure the Palestinians were dead.''

The Israeli army spokesman's office said security forces clashed with a ''terrorist cell'' and three Palestinians were killed.

''Preliminary reports show the terrorists were on their way to carry out an attack,'' the statement said, adding that two assault rifles, ammunition, a pistol and Israeli army uniforms were found in the car.

The Israeli army identified the dead as Adel Falah, 23, and Jihad Ghulmeh, 25, both wanted men, and 22-year-old Tarek Natche.

Maj. Gen. Ilan Biran, Israel's top West Bank commander, said they were suspected of several attacks, including a shooting on a bus last month in which two settlers were killed.

Islamic militants have killed 65 Israelis since October. The attacks are aimed at derailing Israel-PLO talks on expanding Palestinian self-rule set up in the Gaza Strip and West Bank district of Jericho last May.

Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin said Israel would continue its battle against Hamas in the Hebron area. He said he believed that Yehiya Ayash, a Palestinian who tops Israel's wanted list, was in Gaza.

''He is alive and active (and) will try and continue to attack us, but as every guerrilla finds his end, so will he,'' Rabin told Israel television.

He also said he would consider offering the Palestinians a state in the Gaza Strip a proposal that PLO leader Yasser Arafat would be unlikely to accept.

''If they would agree to receiving a Palestinian state only in Gaza and leave the West Bank alone, I would consider it seriously,'' Rabin said.

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