JERUSALEM -- Israel's army launched a broad raid using helicopters and rockets yesterday against Palestinian radicals, killing two men it identified as leaders of the militant group Hamas and destroying homes in the Gaza Strip just 11 days before the army is to begin withdrawing.
The violence heightened tensions and --ed the celebratory mood in the West Bank and Gaza Strip as the start of the autonomy agreement between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization approaches.
"They're damaging the peace process, not just buildings," the director of the PLO office in Gaza, Sami Abu-Samhadana, said last night. "How do they expect us to protect the agreement when they are using rockets?"
The PLO headquarters in Tunis also protested the Israeli raid. But it was uncertain how heartfelt were the PLO complaints, since Israel's action yesterday apparently was aimed at the Islamic opposition group Hamas, the PLO's chief rival in the occupied territories.
The army said last night that the two men killed in the raid were both wanted Hamas fugitives. They were hiding in "bunkers" that were bombed in the Bureij refugee camp, according to an army spokesman.
The army said it also arrested 16 others in the operation and discovered several caches of weapons. The hiding places revealed rocket-propelled grenades, demolition charges, automatic rifles, money and drugs, according to an army spokesman.
The raid started in the early morning yesterday and eventually included targets in at least six locations in the Gaza Strip. Residents said they watched Israeli helicopters circle over the areas, and several camps were placed under curfew.
The operation included a controversial tactic of ordering residents out of homes in which suspects might be hiding and then blowing up the homes with rockets and anti-tank missiles. According to Palestinian sources, at least five homes were destroyed and another 11 damaged.
It was first time since the Israel-PLO agreement was signed that the army had used the tactic, which has been condemned by international human rights organizations.
"After the agreement, I didn't think they were going to do this any more," said one Gaza resident, who was afraid to be identified.
Israel is trying to round up "wanted" Palestinians before it is obligated to turn Jericho and the Gaza Strip over to a Palestinian autonomous government, starting Oct. 13.
The army staged a large raid near Jenin last Thursday, arresting seven members of the PLO's armed "Black Panthers" gang. Israeli Chief of Staff Ehud Barak rejected the complaints of the PLO then and said the military would continue to pursue wanted radicals.
The army said one of the men killed yesterday, whom they identified as Hamed Salem Hazza Krinowi, about 24, was in charge of a branch of an armed Hamas gang. They said he had participated in attacks on the army and murders of Palestinians suspected of collaborating with Israel.
The other man, whom they identified as Moussa Sayed, 21, was described by the army as a Hamas activist who had been wanted for one year and seven months.
In another ominous warning for the delicate new Israeli-Arab relations, two Israeli men with an Uzi machine gun killed a 70-year-old woman picking figs at a village near the West Bank town of Ramallah, apparently because she was Palestinian. Village residents blamed Jewish settlers, among whom are some of the most radical opponents of the peace agreement.
The woman, Ratiba Abdul Karim Saleh Jabra, 70, was slain in her field near the village of Ain Yabroud, four miles north of Ramallah, about 8:30 a.m. The field abuts the Jewish settlement of Ofra, and there has been frequent friction between the Jews and Arabs.
Israeli authorities said they were investigating the incident yesterday but had made no arrests.
Her sister-in-law, Rifa Mahmoud Jasser, 52, was beaten and apparently left for dead by the attackers. Two shots fired at close range barely missed her, she said.
Mrs. Jasser choked back tears last night in her home as she described the attack. Evidence of its severity was on her face: red welts in the unmistakable pattern of a boot sole on her cheek, where she said she was kicked by one of the men.
According to Mrs. Jasser, she and the older woman were picking figs by 7:30 a.m. when two Jewish men appeared. They loitered under an almond tree for awhile, but when the two women were separated in the field, they attacked.
She was grappling with one man when she heard two shots in the direction of her relative, Mrs. Jasser said. Then the other man ran toward her with an Uzi machine gun. She fell, and the armed attacker kicked her head, she said.
"He said, 'I will kill you.' He shot two shots. One passed by the left side of my head, and the other passed under my arm," she said. "They thought I had died."
Mrs. Jabra's son, Mohammed Abdul Rahman Jabra, said a doctor found two wounds in his mother's body: one from a bullet and the other from a bullet or a knife.
"This is unprecedented. The settlers have damaged property before, but they never attacked with a gun," said the muktar, the village elder, Abdul Aziz Abdulla Sheikh.
Although the Jewish settlement was founded in 1975 on land claimed by the Arab village, there had been no dispute about the fields in which the shooting occurred, he said. But a neighbor, Ahmad Amran Khalili, said that in the past four years, Jewish settlers have attacked the Arabs "hundreds of times."
Since the PLO-Israel agreement was reached, some settlers have vowed they would take up arms against Palestinians if the Israeli government withdrew. The government has warned them against such vigilante action.