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Palestinian Terrorists’ Attack Thwarted by Israeli Officials

By Tracy Wilkinson

In a daylong drama punctuated by shootouts and bomb blasts, Israeli commandos lay siege Thursday to a cell of suspected Palestinian extremists, killing as many as four of them and foiling what officials said would have been a major terrorist attack.

One Palestinian was captured and an Israeli police officer lost a foot in the siege in the Israeli Arab town of Taibeh, north of Tel Aviv.

Had the alleged terrorist attack been carried out, it would have become the latest bombing or attempted bombing to target Israelis in recent weeks, according to Israeli officials, amid what Palestinians warn is mounting anger and volatility over a stalled peace process.

Thursday’s violence came as crucial final-stage negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians have collapsed, with mutual blame replacing the goodwill of a few months ago. It also followed by one day a vote in Israel’s parliament that exposed the political frailty of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak as he tries to pursue peace with the Palestinians and Syria.

Israeli security officials said the suspects killed in Taibeh were from the Palestinian-controlled Gaza Strip and were operatives of the militant Islamic Hamas organization, which opposes peace with Israel. Israeli television reported that the gang planned four bombings in of major Israeli cities.

While Israeli and Palestinian leaderships condemned the alleged Hamas plot, there were warnings from both sides of the likelihood of more violence.

Taibeh is inside Israel but just west of the West Bank. It is part of a region sprinkled with Arab villages and towns, and not far from the handful of Israeli cities that have been targeted in recent bombings, such as Netanya and Hadera. Dozens of Israelis were injured in those incidents but none killed.

Israeli Arabs said they feared that Thursday’s incident will be used once again by the Israeli right to question their loyalty. A bombing last year in the Israeli city of Tiberias, less than 24 hours after Barak’s first peace agreement with the Palestinians, led to speculation that Hamas was making inroads in the Israeli Arab community.