Israeli Troops Raid Houses in West Bank

From the Associated Press

Israeli troops surrounded two houses in a West Bank town Thursday, setting off a fierce gun battle with Palestinian militants that left one soldier dead and forced the surrender of five wanted men.

It was Israel's second strike against militants this week. On Tuesday, soldiers raided a Palestinian Authority prison in Jericho, capturing six people.

Thursday's shootout in Jenin erupted as soldiers demanded the surrender of five fugitives from the militant group Islamic Jihad and the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade. The army said one wanted man ran out of a building early in the raid, and the other four surrendered later. An Israeli soldier was shot dead.

Students threw stones at the Israeli soldiers, and an army bulldozer tried to disperse the crowd. Troops entered homes in the area, taking up position and fighting with gunmen.

The militants captured in the raid on the Jericho jail included Ahmed Saadat, the suspected mastermind of the 2001 assassination of an Israeli Cabinet minister. The prison operation had wide backing in Israel, but some questioned its timing so close to the March 28 elections.

Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has rejected allegations that he ordered the raid to win the support of hard-line voters.

Polls showed the raid had boosted voter support for Olmert.

Olmert's centrist Kadima party had been sliding in the polls in recent weeks, to where it was projected to win fewer than 40 of 120 parliament seats. Although the party remained far ahead of its closest rivals, the dip had raised speculation that a Kadima-led coalition would not be strong enough to implement its vision of West Bank withdrawals.

A poll conducted Wednesday by the independent Geocartography Institute showed that Kadima would win 42 to 43 seats, said Avi Degani, head of the polling agency. The poll of 500 people had a margin of error of 4 percentage points.

Other polls also had Kadima making gains, although not passing the 40-seat mark.

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