Top Nablus-area Hamas commander Amjad Hinawi, 33, was killed by the IDF after he opened fire at troops attempting to arrest him Monday.
Hinawi, who was described by security officials as a "ticking bomb," had intensified his efforts to refurbish the Hamas infrastructure in the Nablus region and strengthen its capability. According to intelligence information, Hinawi had stockpiled explosives and bomb belts he intended to use in attacks and had planned to set up a bomb factory in the city.
Hinawi, together with Khalil Sharif, shot and murdered David Boim, a 17-year-old yeshiva student as he stood at a Beit El bus stop waiting for a bus home to Jerusalem in May 1996. Several hours earlier, the two fired shots at an Israeli bus transporting Civil Administration officials. As a result, the bus driver lost control and rammed into the road side, injuring a number of passengers.
In November 1995, Hinawi and Sharif were involved in the fatal shooting of Rabbi Uzi Nevo in Samaria. Hinawi was eventually incarcerated by the Palestinian Authority and sentenced to ten years hard labor, but shortly after, the sentencing was given a furlough and failed to return.
Sharif was one of three suicide bombers who blew up in Jerusalem's Ben Yehuda mall in 1997.
Before dawn, Border Police undercover units and elite IDF Duvdevan paratroopers and Harouv Battalion units surrounded Hinawi's house in the eastern section Nablus. He then attempted to flee the building and opened fire at troops, and was killed in the return fire.
On his body, soldiers found a Kalashnikov rifle, six ammunition clips and a handgun. It was only later that it became apparent that the dead Palestinian was Hinawi, the focus of the raid.
Hamas swore bitter retaliation to the IDF raid. In a statement faxed to the Associated Press, Hamas's military wing, Izzedin Kassam, vowed "the painful retaliation of Kassam is coming."
In what has become a formula of such statements, the fax continued: "We say to the Zionists that you are going to pay the price... You will regret each drop of blood you shed."
While that may be true, Hamas activists in Ramallah are loathe to sacrifice their substantial progress in the political arena over the past year. "We'd be crazy to start a war in the West Bank by launching an offensive," said Abu Mustafa, a Hamas political activist out of the group's Ramallah headquarters.
Hamas hopes to best Fatah in the next round of municipal elections slated for December 7 and in the parliamentary elections on January 25.
However, the group's prospects have suffered from the PA's cancellation of municipal elections in Hamas strongholds, like Gaza and Hebron, and by Israel's desire to keep its members from the polls.
Palestinians roundly condemned the death as "another provocation by Israel." A dejected Nasser Juma, the head of Nablus's Aksa Martyrs Brigades, noted that Hamas cannot let the raid slip away without retaliating. "Groups like Hamas and us want to keep the tahdiya [cease-fire], but are prevented to do so by Israel. Everyday Israel goes out and kills someone in our towns. How can they expect no reaction?" he said in a telephone interview with The Jerusalem Post.
Juma's Nablus-based Aksa Martyrs Brigades have kept an increasingly low profile of late, and Juma himself has made efforts to branch out into politics.
As Ramallah buzzed with the visit of US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, Fatah officials close to Muhammad Dahlan, in the de facto Palestinian capital for meetings, grumbled that "Sharon wants Hamas to win." The rationale among Fatah personnel is that the more "martyrs" Israel creates, the more it justifies Hamas's policies.
Elsewhere in Nablus, security forces came under fire several times while arresting eight Hamas fugitives. No one was wounded in the attacks but several army vehicles were damaged.
Speaking to reporters at the Tapuah Junction, Samaria district commander Col. Yuval Bazak said Hinawi's death prevented the cell from launching "painful" attacks inside Israel and was a significant blow to the Hamas infrastructure in the city.
Elsewhere in the West Bank, security forces arrested a Hamas fugitive in Rantiss, northwest of Ramallah, and two members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine in El-Khader, north of Bethlehem, and Husan, west of Bethlehem.
Towards noon at the Hawara checkpoint south of Nablus, three 15-year-old Palestinian youths were handed over to the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) for questioning after they were found carrying a ready-made bomb in a bag. Sappers summoned to the site later blew up the bomb. Security officials will attempt to determine who sent the youths with the bomb and the identity of its intended recipient.
In the Gaza Strip early Monday morning, soldiers killed one armed Palestinian and wounded two others after they were seen approaching the north Gaza security fence not far from Kibbutz Kfar Aza. The three were armed with rocket grenade launchers and a handgun.
Shortly after the incident, Palestinian security officials informed Israeli officials that one of the Palestinians was killed and two others seriously wounded. The dead Palestinian was later identified as Imad Abdul-Al a member of the Popular Resistance Committee.