Israeli forces killed two Palestinian militants Thursday during a West Bank arrest raid, riddling their car with bullets when it tried to run a roadblock outside the town of Jenin, the army confirmed.
The shooting, part of a recent increase in Israeli raids in Palestinian towns, threatened to inflame tensions between the two sides, which agreed to a cease-fire nine months ago. The truce has been repeatedly violated by both sides, though the level of violence remains far lower than before the agreement.
The army said the incident Thursday began when an Israeli force seeking to arrest two wanted militants set up a checkpoint outside Jenin. When the militants tried to run the roadblock, the force opened fire and the vehicle ran off the road and flipped over, the army said.
Palestinian security officials identified the slain men as Mohammed Zaid, 18, and Ahmed Abahri, 18, militants with the Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, a militia affiliated with the ruling Fatah party. Al Aqsa threatened to retaliate.
Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat condemned the killing and warned of the "serious collapse" of the cease-fire.
"I hope that the Israeli election campaign will not be marked by more Palestinian blood," he said hours after Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon agreed to hold new elections early next year.
Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas hopes to capitalize on Israel's withdrawal from the Gaza Strip to beat back a challenge from the Islamic Hamas group.
However, Abbas has had difficulty establishing his authority and bringing order to the volatile territory.
Defying a Palestinian Authority ban on public displays of weapons, about 1,000 Al Aqsa militants brandishing assault rifles and rocket launchers marched through Gaza City on Thursday and vowed to hold on to their arms.
The militants fired into the air while their leaders made speeches insisting on the right to bear arms against Israel, which still controls most access points to Gaza.
The arms ban was announced two months ago after an explosion at a Hamas rally killed 25 people. Hamas blamed Israel, but Palestinian investigators said the blast was set off when militants mishandled explosives they were displaying at the rally, the AP reports.