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Members of the police counterterrorism squad killed a senior member of Hamas' military wing near Hebron yesterday. The man, Ali Ahmed Sweiti, was suspected of killing a border police officer four years ago.

Sweiti barricaded himself inside a house and tried to fight off the police squad, but was killed when a bulldozer brought the house down.

Sweiti, 42, belonged to a large Hamas network that operated in the Hebron area in the early 1990s and was responsible for killing dozens of Israelis.

The Shin Bet security service says Sweiti was personally responsible for the death of 2nd Lt. Yaniv Mashiach in April 2004, near the villages of Idna and Tarqumiya in the southern Hebron Hills region. Two other border policemen were wounded in that attack.

Sweiti was also suspected of involvement in other shooting and bombing attacks in that area that caused no casualties.

He went underground several years ago and evaded repeated efforts by Israel's security forces to arrest him.

But early yesterday morning, using intelligence secured by the Shin Bet, the counterterrorism squad, backed by the Nahal reconnaissance battalion, entered the village of Beit Awa and surrounded the house where the armed Sweiti was hiding.

After exchanging fire with Sweiti, the troops called in a bulldozer, which destroyed the house.

After Sweiti's death, dozens of Palestinians clashed with Israel Defense Forces troops in the area. Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri accused the Palestinian Authority of cooperating in Sweiti's killing.

Though the IDF has had numerous firefights with Hamas operatives in this area in the past, such clashes have been rare in recent times. Indeed, incidents in which the security forces kill armed suspects have become rare throughout the West Bank. Last December, undercover IDF troops killed three men in Nablus - all members of a faction affiliated with Fatah - who were responsible for killing Rabbi Meir Avshalom Chai near the settlement of Einav two days earlier.

Hamas' military wing, Iz a-Din al-Qassam, has significantly reduced its terrorist activities in the West Bank lately, due to heavy pressure from the IDF and the Shin Bet, on one hand, and the various PA security services, on the other. Many of Hamas' most senior and experienced operatives in the West Bank have been killed or are currently in prison, either in Israel or in the PA, and the handful that are left have gone into hiding, as Sweiti did.

However, sources in the IDF and the Shin Bet said that Hamas is working on rebuilding its networks, and plans to activate them when it decides the time is right to resume carrying out major terrorist attacks.

Also yesterday, Palestinian security forces uncovered a large quantity of weapons and explosives in Nablus that they said were hidden by Hamas. More than 20 people affiliated with Hamas were arrested in the raid, and Palestinian sources said the detainees were planning major attacks against Israel.