Israeli Military Kills Hamas Operative

By Howard Schneider and Debbi Wilgoren
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, May 28, 2009; 3:27 PM

AMMAN, Jordan, May 28 -- A longtime Hamas leader accused of plotting fatal attacks in Israel was killed during an exchange of gunfire Thursday after Israeli forces surrounded his West Bank home, an Israeli military official said.

The clash came on the same day that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is to meet President Obama at the White House to discuss Israel's control of the West Bank and other aspects of the troubled Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

Abed al-Majid Dudin, 45, helped plan and execute two fatal bus bombings in Israel in the mid-1990s, an Israeli military spokesman said. He is believed to have continued plotting attacks after his release from a Palestinian prison in late 2000 and had been on Israel's wanted list for years.

A spokesman for Hamas -- which governs the Gaza Strip, remains active in the West Bank and is considered a terrorist group by the United States and Israel -- confirmed that Dudin was a commander in its armed wing, the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades.

Dudin's death "inflames the situation all over again," the Hamas official said, after months of relative quiet following Israel's military operation in Gaza last winter.

"It opens the door for retaliation," spokesman Ayman Taha said. "We will pick the right time and the right place."

Abbas, who is from the more moderate Fatah party, does not control Hamas and its operatives. But Dudin was killed in the West Bank, where the Palestinian Authority has gradually expanded its policing powers, even as Israel retains overall control.

At the White House on Thursday, Abbas and Obama are expected to focus on the contentious issue of Jewish settlements in the West Bank. But they may also discuss the delicate question of whether Israel should play a more restrained role in policing the West Bank at a time when Israel and the Palestinian Authority are cooperating on security issues and significant attacks by militant groups have ebbed.

Palestinian security forces patrol major cities in the West Bank, including the flash-point city of Hebron, near the village where Dudin was hiding. However, Israel continues to conduct military operations there as it sees fit -- often alerting the Palestinian Authority to its plans. It was not immediately clear Thursday whether Dudin's village, Dir al-Assal al-Thata, is under Palestinian control and whether Israel coordinated the operation with Abbas's government.

On Wednesday night, after determining Dudin's whereabouts, military forces surrounded Dudin's house and tried to get him to surrender, the Israeli military spokesman said. Dudin barricaded himself in his home, according to local news reports, and fired at the troops before being killed.

Wilgoren reported from Washington.

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