IDF Kills 8 Militants in Gaza, Including Jihad Commander

Jihad commander charged with Qassam and bomb manufacturing; troops kill PA negotiator's bodyguard in Ramallah.

The Israel Defense Forces and the Shin Bet security service killed at least eight Hamas and Islamic Jihad gunmen in three separate incidents in the Gaza Strip Thursday. Among the dead was the head of rocket and explosive manufacturing for Islamic Jihad in Gaza.

Mohammed Abdallah Abu Murshad was killed together with two other operatives when he was struck by Israel Air Force missiles while walking in a refugee camp in the central Gaza Strip.

In another incident, an IAF aircraft fired at a car containing a large quantity of munitions in the Al-Bureij refugee camp in central Gaza, killing two Islamic Jihad operatives. A security source said they were on their way to a terror attack.

Early Friday morning, IAF missiles killed a Hamas militant and injured five people near Khan Yunis.

Southern Command is gearing up for Qassam rocket fire from Islamic Jihad in response to the killings.

Also on Friday, Mu'tasem Sharif, 22, a member of the PA security forces, was killed by IDF troops outside his Ramallah home while trying to escape arrest.

Sharif was a bodyguard of the Palestinian Authority's chief negotiator Ahmed Qureia.

The IDF said that Sharif opened fire on soldiers during an arrest operation, and they responded in kind, killing him.

According to the IDF, Sharif was suspected of smuggling weapons to Fatah's military wing. Members of the PA's security force and Fatah have been involved of late in attempted or successful attacks on Israelis, including the murder of Kedumim resident Ido Zoldan earlier this month.

Thursday afternoon, three Hamas men were killed near Khan Yunis by fire from an IAF helicopter and an IDF unit on the ground after the militants fired an antitank missile at an IDF bulldozer. Shortly before the incident, a video was broadcast that showed an antitank missile fired at an IDF helicopter gunship. Military sources said the pilots had not noticed the missile, but the video footage would be scrutinized.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak has recently expressed satisfaction with the security forces' operations against terror organizations in the Gaza Strip. The defense establishment believes that the military and economic pressure on Hamas could lead the organization to ask for a cease-fire and pledge to halt rocket fire by smaller factions.

In the West Bank, an undercover Border Police unit raided the home of Samer Saadi, a wanted senior member of Islamic Jihad, and arrested him. IDF forces also arrested about 20 other wanted men yesterday in several West Bank cities.

Yoav Stern adds:

The Palestinian news agency Maan reported Thursday that Defense Minister Ehud Barak's visit to Cairo thawed the frozen talks over the release of kidnapped IDF soldier Gilad Shalit. According to the report, Egypt managed to bring about more flexibility in Israel's position.

Israel agreed to release 200 of the most senior Palestinian prisoners in exchange for Shalit, Maan said, including organizational leaders and veteran prisoners. The report said the information came from "important sources," but gave no details as to their identity.