Army Arrests 22 Suspected Members of Hamas Hit Squad
JERUSALEM (AP) _ Security officials said today they have arrested 22 suspected members of a Muslim fundamentalist assassination squad blamed for the slaying of an Israeli soldier.
Two of the 415 Palestinians expelled to Lebanon last month as alleged Muslim extremists also were involved in the squad that operated in Hebron in the occupied West Bank, Defense Ministry spokesman Oded Ben-Ami said.
The arrest announcement appeared timed to counter world criticism of the deportations. It came a day after U.N. Secretary-General Boutros Boutros Ghali hinted at possible sanctions against Israel and a day before a U.N. envoy was to arrive to discuss the expulsions.
The U.N. Security Council condemned the deportations as a violation of international law. Israel claims the expulsions were necessary to battle the radical Muslim groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad, which have been blamed for killing seven Israeli soldiers and a secret agent since Oct. 25.
Ben-Ami said at a news conference that the 22 arrested Palestinians belonged to the Hebron branch of the Izzidin el-Qassem brigade, the military wing of Hamas. He said several members of the group were still at large. The group is named for an Arab revolutionary killed by the British in the 1930s.
Ben-Ami said the detainees were involved in three attacks on Israeli soldiers - an Oct. 21 shooting at an army car that wounded two soldiers; an Oct. 25 shooting at a post in which reserve soldier Shmuel Gersh was killed; and an early November grenade attack on an army vehicle in which the grenades failed to go off.
Members of the squad also were believed involved in the Dec. 12 ambush of an army jeep in which a soldier was killed, but that investigation has not been completed, Ben-Ami said.
An army statement said that the suspects admitted to at least one killing and that ballistics tests linked weapons used by the squad to the killing of the second soldier Dec. 12.
Ben-Ami said two members of the squad, Jawad Bahar and Sheik Hussein Awaouda, were among the 415 men expelled to Lebanon who are encamped in a no man’s land because the Lebanese government refuses to accept them.
The expulsions took place before the involvement of the two men became known, Ben-Ami said. He said there were no plans to bring them back for trial with the other 22.
Officials said the killers of the five other Israeli troopers and an agent of Israel’s Shin Bet internal security service were still at large. The Shin Bet agent was slain Sunday.