Leaders Of Muslim Militant Group Arrested
GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) _ Palestinian police arrested the leaders of a Muslim militant group and two dozen activists today after the organization claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing near a Jewish settlement.
Miltitants have been arrested in the past, but today’s predawn sweep was the first to target leaders of the Hamas group.
It came only six days before a July 1 deadline for Israel and the PLO to reach agreement on an Israeli troop pullback in the West Bank and Palestinian elections.
Israel has said it would only redeploy its forces if PLO chief Yasser Arafat proves he can rein in Muslim militants.
Today’s arrests of the two Hamas leaders, Mahmoud Zahar and Ahmed Bahar, signaled that Arafat is determined not to let his political rivals spoil an agreement with Israel.
``We are going through a quiet peace process, and the opposition should not behave like this,″ Brig. Zakariya Baloushe, deputy chief of Palestinian intelligence, told The Associated Press.
Hamas said the arrests would hurt a co-existence agreement his group and Arafat’s government are negotiating.
``It means the Palestinian authority is not serious about the dialogue″ said Ghaza Hamad, editor of the Hamas newspaper Al Watan. ``It wants to sacrifice the opposition (Hamas) in order to enter the West Bank.″
On Sunday, a Hamas follower blew up a booby-trapped vegetable cart near a Jewish settlement in the Gaza Strip, barely missing an Israeli army patrol.
The assailant, 21-year-old Moawiya Roka, was killed, and three Israeli soldiers were slightly injured.
In a leaflet issued Sunday, Hamas’ military wing, Izzedine al-Qassam, claimed responsibility for the bombing and threatened more attacks.
In addition to Zahar and Bahar, two dozen top Hamas activists were arrested in today’s sweep, said Hamas sources, speaking on condition of anonymity.
One of the detainees was Ahmed Nimr Hamdan, prayer leader at the Mercy Mosque in the Gaza town of Khan Yunis.
Zahar and Bahar are considered Hamas’ top political leaders, and Hamdan is one of the group’s chief ideologues.