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Israel Seizes Palestinian Suspects

October 26, 2000

BEIT LIQUIA, West Bank (AP) _ Engulfed by darkness, Israeli soldiers lay in wait in an olive grove near the home of Palestinian farmer Abbas Asi.

A neighbor knocked on the door and relayed an order from an Israeli officer: Asi’s son, Thabet, must surrender.

Moments later, Thabet, a 23-year-old university student, was patted down, cuffed and taken away as a suspect in the grisly Oct. 12 mob killing of two Israeli soldiers in the West Bank town of Ramallah.

The detailed account of the Israeli raid, given by the detainee’s family last week, was suppressed until Thursday by Israel’s military censor. The restrictions were lifted without explanation. The Israeli army would not confirm that Thabet Asi and others have been seized.

In a related development, Israel TV said Thursday that six Jerusalem policemen have been suspended without pay for beating Asi. Police and Justice Ministry officials refused comment.

The events of Oct. 12 began when two Israeli reservists made a wrong turn and ended up in the Palestinian-controlled town of Ramallah.

The Israelis first sought refuge in the Ramallah police station. However, hundreds of Palestinians stormed the station and stabbed and bludgeoned the Israelis with anything they could lay their hands on, including fax machines and computers. One body was thrown from a window, then beaten by the angry crowd, and the second was dragged through the streets.

Israeli security agents reviewed TV footage of the killing and drew up a list of 18 suspects by matching pictures with names, security officials said. Israel has extensive computerized records of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Thabet Asi is one of eight Palestinians arrested so far by uniformed Israeli soldiers and special forces, including the undercover Duvdevan unit that specializes in tracking down Palestinian fugitives.

Several suspects were seized in Ramallah even though the town is under full Palestinian control, said an official close to Duvdevan, adding that the most recent arrests were made earlier this week.

The arrests have been cloaked in secrecy. Israel has not acknowledged holding the eight and none of the detainees has been publicly brought before a judge.

Israel has said it would not stop the manhunt until all those involved have been caught. Israelis have greeted the sketchy reports of arrests _ including of a Palestinian man in his 20s who was photographed with his blood-smeared hands raised triumphantly in the air _ with grim satisfaction.

``The message to the Palestinians is clear: Next time you happen to be in a place where there might be a lynching, you’d better run quickly before you are identified and caught,″ said a commentary in the Yediot Ahronot daily.

Israel has a long-standing policy of evening scores. After the 1972 Munich Olympics, Israeli agents assassinated Palestinians involved in taking Israeli athletes hostage.

On Oct. 15, at 4 a.m., the long arm of the Israeli security forces reached Thabet Asi. Israeli military vehicles circled Beit Liquia, a farming village 12 miles west of Ramallah and close to the frontier with Israel.

A neighbor knocked on the door of the Asi home, saying he was sent by Israeli soldiers waiting outside. The suspect’s father was ordered, via messenger, to wake up Thabet, have him dress and bring him outside. The farmer quickly complied and led his son to the Israelis, who took him away without explanation.

Asi insisted his son was innocent. On the afternoon of Oct. 12, the day of the lynching, Thabet _ a fourth-year geography and history student at Al Quds University _ returned home from Ramallah where he had been teaching at the Hashamieh High School as part of his teacher’s training.

As he had every day for the past few weeks, Thabet talked about the tense situation of the Israeli-Palestinian clashes. ``But I didn’t notice anything unusual in my son,″ Asi said.

His son would have gone into hiding had he been involved in wrongdoing, he said. Beit Liquia is under full Israeli security control.

Asi’s wife, Helweh, said Thabet, one of the 13 children, was a quiet boy who spent his time either studying or working in the family’s carpentry shop.

Posted on the wall in the living room, Thabet’s high school certificate from the Lutheran World Federation’s Secondary School lauded him as an ``A″ student with nearly perfect attendance.

Mrs. Asi said Thabet, who is her stepson, had not joined in the rock-throwing clashes of the previous few weeks and was never arrested before for anti-Israeli activities, like so many of his peers. ``He doesn’t even like throwing stones,″ she said.

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