Israeli troops on Tuesday killed an Islamic Jihad militant said to be behind the 2012 bombing of a Tel Aviv bus, officials said, as the Palestinian movement confirmed his death.
The militant was killed as troops stormed an area between the West Bank villages of Bilin and Kufr Ne’meh, 10 kilometres (six miles) northwest of Ramallah, sparking a gunfight which ended at a cave, Palestinian witnesses and medics said.
The army confirmed the incident, naming the dead man as Mohammed Assi and describing him as an Islamic Jihad militant responsible for the November 2012 bombing of a Tel Aviv bus that wounded 29 people.
“A wanted Palestinian terrorist was killed this morning in Bilin during a gunfight with the army while he was in a cave,” army spokesman Avichay Adraee tweeted in Arabic.
Islamic Jihad confirmed Assi was one of its militants in a statement on its website which said he had been “assassinated” by the army in Kufr Ne’meh, while Gaza’s Hamas rulers offered condolences.
Peter Lerner, the official spokesman for the Israeli army, described Assi as the “planner” of the Tel Aviv bombing.
“On 21st November 2012 a terrorist planted a bomb on a bus in #TelAviv injuring 29 people. This a.m. its planner was killed in exchange of fire,” he wrote on Twitter.
“Mohammad Assi involved in #TelAviv bombing last Nov. opened fire at security forces and was killed this a.m. in the exchange of fire,” he said, adding two others also involved in the bombing were arrested.
In a statement, the army said Assi’s whereabouts had been discovered by Israel’s Shin Bet internal security service after “extensive continuous efforts.”
It said Assi had barricaded himself into a cave and that soldiers used grenades and “other means” in a bid to reach him.
“While attempting to detain the terrorist, he opened fire towards security forces. They responded with fire which killed him,” said the army.
Troops also arrested two of Assi’s “assistants” overnight, it said, saying the two had been previously jailed for Islamic Jihad activity and were being interrogated by the Shin Bet.
Witnesses told AFP the incident began at 5:00 am (0200 GMT) when troops entered Bilin then moved into an area between the village and nearby Kufr Ne’meh, sparking gunfire.
Troops surrounded a cave in the area and bulldozed it, a Palestinian medic at the scene said.
The witnesses confirmed troops were hunting for Assi, saying he was a wanted Islamic Jihad activist.
The Tel Aviv bombing took place on November 21 on a bus near the defence ministry.
The attack came as Israel was engaged in a major air campaign in Gaza to stamp out cross-border rocket fire that ended with a mutual ceasefire several hours later.