Attack comes two days after the start of Israeli-Palestinian direct peace talks launched in Washington.
|Israeli forces have been searching for suspects in the August 31 killing of four Israelis near Hebron [Reuters]|
Israeli soldiers have shot dead a local commander of the armed wing of Hamas in the occupied West Bank, the Israeli military and Palestinian security sources said.
Iyad Shilbayeh, a commander of the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, was killed during a raid on the Nur Shams refugee camp in the northern West Bank, according to sources.
An Israeli spokeswoman said on Friday that Shilbayeh was shot “during a routine arrest raid” near Tulkarm, a northern West Bank town.
He had previously been jailed by Israel, she said.
The Israeli spokeswoman said the soldiers had opened fire after Shilbayeh came towards them despite being told to halt.
Shilbayeh’s brother Mohammed told the Reuters news agency that soldiers knocked on his door then went inside. Shilbayeh was heard saying “Who is there?” before three shots were heard, he said.
Palestinian medical sources confirmed that the 38-year-old died as a result of three gunshot wounds; one in the neck and two in the chest.
No weapons were found on Shilbayeh’s body when it was searched after the shooting and the Israeli military said it will investigate the killing.
Salam Fayyad, the Palestinian prime minister in the West Bank-based government, condemned the killing.
Hamas called Shilbayeh “a martyr”.
“The murder was the fruit of the negotiations,” Sami Abu Zuhri, a Hamas spokesman, said in reference to direct peace talks between the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli government which have been opposed by the movement.
At a news conference Hamas said that the assassination was a “serious escalation” of the conflict by Israel.
Hamas condemned the killing, accusing the Palestinian Authority’s security apparatus for colluding with Israel.
Zuhri said that Fatah’s condemnation of the assassination was an attempt to evade responsibility.
Israeli forces have been searching for suspects in the August 31 killing of four Israelis on a road near the West Bank town of Hebron.
Hamas claimed responsibility for the attack but it was not immediately clear whether Shilbayeh was suspected of involvement in those deaths.
Palestinian security sources had said a Hamas member in the Tulkarm area was a key suspect.
Israel has responded to a rise in rocket fire from the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip in the past two weeks with a series of air strikes and tank fire, in which three Palestinian fighters were killed.