Israel hunts for Islamic Jihad militants in return for suicide bombing

Israel has been taking reciprocal steps to the bombing in the coastal city of Netanya which rattled a five-month-old truce. Israeli troops reoccupied this West Bank city early Wednesday, shooting dead a Palestinian policeman in a firefight and arresting five Islamic Jihad activists after the militant group killed three Israelis in the suicide bombing at a Netanya shopping mall.

On Tuesday evening, a 18-year-old Abu Khalil walked toward the Sharon Mall in Netanya, and detonated 10 kilos (22 pounds) of explosives he had strapped to his body. He killed two 16-year-old girls and a 31-year-old woman at a crossing near the mall.

Suicide bombers opened a hunting season for women - photo-report

In response to the bombing, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said he has ordered security forces to step up operations against Islamic Jihad and to "hit the leadership" of the group. "We will not stop until they (Islamic Jihad) stop the terrorist murders," he said.

The army also sealed off the West Bank and Gaza Strip, barring all Palestinians from entering Israel, a routine measure after attacks, says the AP. Troops entered the West Bank town of Tulkarem in search of the bombing's masterminds.

However, Israel, the Palestinian Authority and most Palestinian militant groups also appear to have an interest in preventing further escalation ahead of the Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and four West Bank settlements this summer.

Israel on Wednesday declared the Jewish settlements in Gaza and four in the northern West Bank off-limits to non-residents, to prevent large numbers of protesters from reaching the area ahead of the pullout, set to begin on mid-August.

Photo: AP

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