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Hamas Says Fugitive Seized in Raid

May 16, 2000

JERUSALEM (AP) _ A Palestinian who topped Israel’s most wanted list was arrested when Palestinian agents stormed a Gaza City house after evening prayers, a leader of the Islamic militant group Hamas said Tuesday.

The arrest of Mohammed Deif _ the top Hamas fugitive for the past four years _ has been shrouded in mystery, with neither Israeli nor the Palestinian security officials willing to talk about it.

Giving details of the capture for the first time, Ismail Abu Shanab said Deif was seized Thursday at a house in Gaza City’s Sabra neighborhood, where Hamas’ spiritual leader, Sheik Ahmed Yassin, also resides.

Deif had just completed Muslim evening prayers when agents of the Preventive Security Service dressed in civilian clothes stormed the house, Abu Shanab said. ``It went quietly,″ he said.

The Palestinian Authority assured Hamas it would not hand Deif over to Israel, Abu Shanab said.

Deif is believed to have orchestrated suicide bombings that killed scores of Israelis and several Americans. Deif was the right-hand man of Yehiyeh Ayyash, the chief Hamas bombmaker assassinated in January 1996 in an operation widely attributed to Israel.

Israeli opposition leader Ariel Sharon said Tuesday that Deif was not seized, but simply surrendered to Palestinian officials.

Deif’s arrest was a severe blow to Hamas and its military wing, Izzedine al Qassam, said Abu Shanab. Deif became leader of the wing after Ayyash’s death.

Deif and Mohammed Dahlan _ the head of the Gaza branch of the Preventive Security Service responsible for the fugitive’s capture _ grew up together in the Khan Younis refugee camp in the southern Gaza Strip, and later went to the same university.

Palestinian officials have denied rumors that they were in contact with Deif during his years on the run, and made no serious effort to arrest him.

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