Israeli troops have killed two senior Hamas militants in the West Bank city of Hebron, the Israeli military and Hamas officials said - raising tensions as peace talks remain stuck over Israeli settlement building.
The two gunmen were wanted in connection with the killing of four Israelis near Hebron on August 31, the Israeli military said.
Israeli soldiers with jeeps and an armoured bulldozer surrounded the house in Hebron before dawn. The military said the men rebuffed calls to surrender and began shooting at the Israeli troops. The soldiers then returned fire, killing both militants, the military said.
The gun battle left the walls pocked with bullet holes, and an AP photographer on the scene saw one body on the street outside. The three-story house was demolished.
Palestinian and Israeli security forces had been looking for the Hamas men since the four Israelis from a nearby settlement were shot while driving on a road near Hebron, Palestinian security officials said.
Hamas' military wing, the Al-Qassam Brigades, issued a statement threatening to avenge the deaths.
A senior Hamas official in the Gaza Strip, which is controlled by the militant group, confirmed that both of the men killed were senior members of the group's armed wing. He spoke on condition of anonymity because the Islamic organisation had yet to officially identify the dead men.
In Gaza, thousands attended a rally in the town of Jebaliya to mourn the militants. Their deaths will be "the fuel for upcoming operations," a prominent Hamas official, Mushir al-Masri, told the crowd. He also accused the Palestinian government led by President Mahmoud Abbas, which wields limited power in the West Bank, for enabling the raid by cooperating with Israel. He condemned Abbas for holding new peace talks with Israel.
Those negotiations, which began early last month, are currently deadlocked over the end of a temporary slowdown of Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has rebuffed pressure from the Palestinians, the U.S. and the international community to extend the building restrictions. The Palestinians have threatened to quit the talks if there is no extension.
Arab foreign ministers are set to discuss the talks at a meeting in Sirte, Libya, and their position on the matter is expected to influence Abbas' decision about whether to continue the negotiations even without a slowdown extension.