NABLUS, West Bank -- Acting on a tip, Israeli troops ambushed Palestinian militants holed up in an underground tunnel yesterday, killing seven fugitives including the most-wanted man in the West Bank.
Army commanders said killing the fugitives was the main goal of a three-day operation to root out militants in the West Bank city of Nablus. Troops began withdrawing from the center of the city soon after the raid.
Soldiers killed an eighth militant during an earlier raid in Nablus, the largest West Bank city.
Meanwhile, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat called for a cease-fire with Israel during the Olympic Games in Greece, scheduled for Aug. 13-29
Israeli officials, who accuse Arafat of supporting militants, dismissed the offer as insincere.
Israeli military officials called the raid in Nablus a great success. An army commander, who identified himself as Lieutenant Colonel Itzik, said the men killed in the ambush were the main targets of the operation.
The tracking began earlier in the day, when troops shot two armed men, killing one, Itzik said. The second man fled and later entered a hole under a closet in a house that led to a tunnel where seven other militants were hiding, Itzik said.
When troops threw grenades into the tunnel the suspect exited from a different opening Itzik said. Troops shot and threw more grenades into the hiding place, killing the militants inside.
Among the dead was Nayef Abu Sharkh, a leader in the Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades. Palestinian and Israeli security sources said Abu Sharkh was Israel's most-wanted militant in the West Bank.Palestinian hospital officials said Sheik Ibrahim, Islamic Jihad's top commander in the West Bank, was also killed.
Four other militants were identified as members of the Al Aqsa, Islamic Jihad, and Hamas militant groups; the fifth had not been identified.
Palestinian Cabinet minister Saeb Erekat condemned the bloodshed in Nablus and called for US, UN, European Union, and Russian intervention.