Israeli raid kills Hamas member said to be behind attack

Surif (Palestinian Territories) (AFP) - Israeli forces fired anti-tank missiles at a house in the West Bank after a shootout overnight, killing a Hamas member accused of a deadly attack on a rabbi, authorities said Wednesday.

Several other people were arrested in the hours-long raid in the village of Surif, near Hebron.

Military footage showed a house being hit with an anti-tank missile then further demolished with an earthmover.

The military said soldiers surrounded the house where the Hamas member was hiding out and exchanged fire with him.

Afterwards, the house was struck with anti-tank missiles and the militant's body was found inside. He was identified as Mohamed Fakih, 29, and Hamas hailed him as a "martyr".

"After extensive research, we found the hideout of the terrorist who killed Michael Mark," Colonel Roman Gofman, commander of the brigade that led the operation, said in a video distributed by the military.

"We besieged the house and exchanges of fire took place after he opened fire at the soldiers. We responded and the terrorist was killed in battle. His house was destroyed on him."

Soldiers carried away Fakih's body and arrested three people, who were led away with their eyes covered and loaded into military vehicles, an AFP photographer witnessed.

The official Palestinian news agency reported five people were arrested and said several villagers were injured, with Palestinian ambulances denied access to the site by Israeli soldiers.

The Israeli army reported three arrests over the course of the investigation that began after the July 1 attack that killed the rabbi.

It called them part of a cell "affiliated with Hamas", the Islamist movement that runs the Gaza Strip and which has a strong presence in parts of the West Bank, particularly Hebron.

- Flashpoint city -

The July 1 attack saw a car targeted by gunfire south of Hebron, leading to a crash that killed Mark and wounded three family members.

It was among a series of attacks in the Hebron area at the time, including a June 30 stabbing by a Palestinian in the Jewish settlement of Kiryat Arba that killed a 13-year-old girl.

Hebron is the scene of frequent tensions in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Several hundred Israeli settlers live in the heart of the city under heavy military guard among around 200,000 Palestinians.

Fakih had served time in Israeli jail for links to the Islamic Jihad movement and joined Hamas while in prison, according to Israel's Shin Bet security service.

It issued a statement saying a Palestinian security official was arrested earlier this month on suspicion of driving Fakih to the scene of the rabbi attack.

Fakih's brother and cousin were also held on suspicion of helping him to hide after the attack, the statement added.

Hamas said in a statement it "hails the Al-Qassam martyr Mohamed Fakih, who was martyred after a gun battle that lasted more than seven hours with occupation forces in Surif."

The Al-Qassam Brigades are Hamas's armed wing.

Violence in the Palestinian territories and Israel since October has killed at least 218 Palestinians, 34 Israelis, two Americans, an Eritrean and a Sudanese, according to an AFP count.

Most of the Palestinians killed were carrying out knife, gun or car-ramming attacks, according to Israeli authorities.

Others were shot dead during protests and clashes, while some were killed in Israeli air strikes in the Gaza Strip.