Jerusalem (CNSNews.com) - Israel and the Palestinians traded accusations on Thursday following the killing of five Palestinian terrorists in a shootout in the West Bank during an arrest operation just two days after Israel completed its withdrawal from 25 settlements in the Gaza Strip and northern West Bank.
There were some 50 warnings of possible Palestinian terror attacks in Israel on Thursday, Israeli security sources said. Meanwhile, Palestinian groups vowed revenge for the overnight Israeli killing of five wanted terrorists.
Israeli undercover agents had entered a caf? in the West Bank city of Tulkarem overnight in order to arrest two wanted Islamic Jihad terrorists. Armed militants opened fire on the Israeli force and hurled an explosive device at them. The Israeli forces returned fire, killing five Palestinians, the army said.
Hamas and Islamic Jihad vowed revenge for the killings.
Following the episode Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas blamed Israel for what he said was the latest escalation in violence.
Abbas charged that Israel was acting to undermine the efforts the Palestinians were making to maintain calm.
Calling it a "cruel act" Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia said that the killing proved Israel is not "interested in calming tensions."
But Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's spokesman Dr. Ra'anan Gissin laid the blame on the P.A. itself.
"This was a search and arrest operation," Gissin said. "Because of the failure of the Palestinian Authority to ... arrest the terrorists - their lack of action in the last few months has turned Tulkarem into a center for terrorist activity."
Abbas can only blame himself, Gissin said. Tulkarem was under his complete control, the men were sitting openly in a caf? and Israel had approached the P.A. asking them to arrest the men, he said.
Israeli security sources said that one of those killed had been involved in three recent terror attacks in which 11 Israelis were killed, including two suicide bombings at a Tel Aviv nightclub and outside a mall in Netanya.
Another of the terrorists was a Tanzim activist involved in creating and operating explosive devices, and a third was sponsored by the Hizballah terrorist organization in Lebanon.
The wanted men had been involved in establishing new military cells and preparing terror attacks sponsored by Hizballah, security sources said.
Following the operation in Tulkarem, two rockets were fired from the Gaza Strip at southern Israel on Thursday. One landed near the southern Israeli town of Sderot. It was the first time since the evacuation of the Gaza settlements was completed that a rocket had been fired at southern Israel.
Along Israel's northern border, a Katyusha rocket slammed into the community of Margaliot, causing no injuries or damage. Reports said that it had likely been fired by a Palestinian group and not by the Iranian-backed Hizballah.
In Jerusalem, 21-year-old British Jewish religious student Shmuel Mett was stabbed to death and his American friend wounded in the Old City on Wednesday evening, in an attack that police said was nationalistically motivated.
Earlier this week, Hamas and Islamic Jihad announced that they had reached a deal with the P.A. under which they would not be disarmed.
P.A. disarming of the militant groups is one of Israel's key demands to return to the road map peace plan.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev said there would be no progress in the political arena following Israel's pullout from 21 settlements in the Gaza Strip and four in the northern West Bank if the Palestinians were going to respond with terrorism.
"If terrorism is the Palestinian response to these Israeli moves, the hope that there exists today to move forward in the process of peaceful reconciliation will totally evaporate," said Regev.
The international community is hoping that the implementation of the Israeli pullout would jumpstart the peace process.
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