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Militants kill 2 off-duty Israeli soldiers

/ Source: news services

Two off-duty Israeli soldiers hiking in the West Bank were killed Friday by Palestinian gunmen but before they died, they managed to fire back at their assailants and kill one of them, the military said.

A second Palestinian assailant was seriously wounded in the firefight, the army said.

A woman who was with the two Israelis but escaped unharmed told Israel Radio they had been hiking in the hills outside the Palestinian town of Hebron and not far from the Jewish settlement of Kiryat Arba where all three lived. They were approached by a jeep carrying a group of Palestinian gunmen who fired at them, said the woman, who was not identified.

The army confirmed her account and said the two Israelis, who were both in their 20s, returned fire with assault rifles they were carrying before they died. They killed one of their attackers and wounded another, the army said.

Palestinian security officials confirmed one Palestinian died in the clash.

Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility for the shooting. Israel has recently killed several of the group's militants in the Gaza Strip, including some senior commanders.

The group had threatened to retaliate for the Gaza attacks, saying the Israeli actions would "not go unpunished."

A splinter group of the al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades in the Gaza Strip also claimed responsibility for the Hebron shooting. West Bank leaders of the militant group, which is part of President Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah faction, denied any role.

Hours earlier, Israeli troops near the West Bank city of Ramallah killed a Palestinian security guard who worked for President Abbas' chief negotiator with Israel, the army and Palestinian security sources said.

Reining in militants
Israel has called on Abbas to meet his obligations under a 2003 road map peace plan to rein in militants in the West Bank and the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip.

The Palestinians say they are meeting their obligations by launching a security clampdown in the West Bank.

Palestinian Foreign and Information Minister Riyad al-Malki said in response to the attack that "as we condemn all Israeli assassination operations ... in Gaza and West Bank, we cannot accept such operations carried out by armed groups."

He said the aim of the group that carried out the attack was to disrupt peace talks and the Palestinian security plan, and he promised "to take harsh measures" against them.

Israel has yet to meet its own road map obligations to freeze settlement construction.

The Israeli army on Thursday killed five Islamic Jihad militants in the Gaza Strip.