Israeli Troops in Hebron Kill Hamas Man Behind Dimona Attack

Olmert praises soldiers for 'successful operation;' Hamas vows to avenge death of Shihab al-Natsheh.

Israeli security forces killed a top Hamas militant wanted over a deadly suicide attack on the southern city of Dimona earlier this year, during an operation in the West Bank city of Hebron on Sunday.

Special unit troops and Border Police officers fired a shell at the house of Shihab al-Natsheh, after he refused to surrender and opened fire at troops, local residents said. A Hamas statement said the militant clashed with soldiers for 12 hours before being killed.

An IDF spokeswoman said soldiers clashed with a group of gunmen in the city, killing a militant, but declined to give further details.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert praised the Border Police and Shin Bet combateers for carrying out the raid. "I can't go into details, but I will stress that this was quite a successful operation," Olmert told ministers during the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem.

Natsheh was an explosives engineer wanted over a suicide attack that killed an Israeli woman in the southern city of Dimona in February and had been seeking to arrest him for several months.

Palestinian security officials identified al-Natsheh as a 25-year-old militant from Hamas and said he was wanted by Israel for involvement in suicide bombings.

Hamas' armed wing, the Izz el-Din Brigade, vowed to avenge Natsheh's killing. "Our response will be swift and painful," the group said in a statement.

Palestinians said the IDF blocked all roads leading to Hebron, preventing anybody from leaving or entering the city.

Israel regularly raids the West Bank searching for wanted militants. Israel and Hamas are observing a cease-fire in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip. But the agreement does not apply in the West Bank, ruled by moderate President Mahmoud Abbas.

Earlier this month, Haaretz reported that the IDF's Central Command and the Shin Bet security service were making a concerted effort to shut down the dawa, Hamas' civilian infrastructure, in the West Bank town of Nablus.

As part of this effort, the IDF closed down a large number of Islamic charities, confiscated their property, searched their computers and seized documents from their offices.

Major operations of this type were carried out in Hebron, Qalqilyah and Ramallah, and a similar operation began in Nablus two weeks ago.

Also on Sunday, Palestinian security forces loyal to Abbas detained 15 Hamas activists, including two officials, in the West Bank city of Tul Karm on Sunday, Palestinian security officials said.

They gave no reason for the arrests, which came amid high tension in the Gaza Strip following a mysterious weekend car bombing that killed six people and sparked the toughest Hamas crackdown against its rivals in months.