Palestinian gunmen shot dead an Israeli soldier on a raid in the occupied West Bank on Wednesday, a day after an Israeli airstrike killed two militant commanders in the Gaza Strip.
More than a week of bloodshed, the worst flareup since a truce was declared in February, has hit hopes that Israel's Gaza pullout in September would revive peacemaking.
The soldier's death, which followed militant vows for revenge after Tuesday's Gaza airstrike, was Israel's first military fatality in action since Prime Minister Ariel Sharon engineered the withdrawal after 38 years of occupation.
"The soldier was killed after an Islamic Jihad operative surrendered without resistance in the northern West Bank," an Israeli army spokesman said about the raid on suspected militant hideouts near the Palestinian city of Jenin.
The spokesman said the soldier was hit by gunfire from militants as the Israeli force was leaving the area.
Israel regularly carries out arrests in the West Bank and has killed several militants during the operations. Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom said there would be no let-up in raids and strikes against militant targets in Gaza as long as the Palestinian Authority did not rein in gunmen. "We are in a state of constant war ... we said that any activity emanating from Gaza would be met by a very severe reaction by Israel. As there is still rocket firing from Gaza, these things cannot go without reaction," Shalom told Israel Radio.
The army said a mortar bomb and a rocket launched from Gaza landed in southern Israel early on Wednesday, causing no casualties or damage.
Palestinian militant groups vowed to "open the gates of hell" for revenge attacks after the Gaza air strike that killed Hassan al-Madhoun, 32, an al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades commander, and Fawzi Abu al-Qarea, 37, a leader of Hamas's armed wing.
Israel said the two men were responsible for attacks that killed 21 Israelis.
"We do not wish to continue with this activity, we wish we could stop it immediately," Shalom said.
"If Abu Mazen takes the strategic decision which he still refuses to take and to act against the infrastructure of terror... (our activity) in Gaza will end the same day," Shalom said, referring to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, reports Reuters. Abbas, who has called for a resumption of peacemaking with Israel, has resisted U.S. and Israeli calls to disarm gunmen, citing fears of civil war. Over the past week, Israel has carried out numerous strikes against militants in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, killing 13 Palestinians, mostly gunmen, reports Reuters I.L.
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