Israelis arrest 18 in raid

Posted in Israel / Palestine | 08-Mar-07 | Author: Isabel Kershner| Source: International Herald Tribune

Palestinian security forces survey the damaged military intelligence headquarters in Ramallah following a dawn raid by the Israeli army.

JERUSALEM: Israeli forces arrested 18 alleged militants in a raid on Palestinian Authority Military Intelligence headquarters near Ramallah early Wednesday, in what appears to be a growing security clampdown in the West Bank.

Last week, one Palestinian man was killed and dozens wounded during three days of Israeli Army incursions into Nablus in search of militants and explosives laboratories.

"We would like to see the Palestinians doing something against terror," said Miri Eisen, a spokeswoman for Prime Minister Ehud Olmert of Israel. "Nothing has been done."

According to Israeli security officials, "wanted" operatives from villages in the Ramallah area routinely use Palestinian Authority security installations as places of refuge, and as bases for launching attacks.

Most of the 18 belong to the Al Aksa Martyrs Brigades network, which is nominally associated with the Fatah faction of the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, but does not necessarily obey its orders.

The security officials listed several of those arrested as having been involved in shooting attacks and attempts to abduct Israeli civilians in recent months. Israeli forces detained up to 50 others who were in the military intelligence building at the time of the raid and questioned them for possible connections with the fugitives.

By evening, security officials said many of them had been released, or soon would be.

The Muqata, the Ramallah compound that serves as Abbas's West Bank headquarters, is listed among the Palestinian Authority structures that Israel says are used by militants as hiding places. Security officials refused to elaborate on whether any suspects were currently inside.

The raid comes ahead of a meeting planned for Sunday or Monday in Jerusalem between Olmert and Abbas. It would be their third meeting since late December.

The Palestinians declared a cease-fire in Gaza last November and reached informal understandings over the truce with Israel, but it did not include the West Bank. Israel has, so far, refrained from responding to violations, which it says include almost daily rocket fire from Gaza by the radical Islamic Jihad, and the continuous smuggling of weapons and ammunition into the Strip.

Palestinian officials are now raising the possibility of expanding the cease- fire to include the West Bank, and are trying to get Islamic Jihad to participate as well.

But Israeli officials quashed any prospect of the subject being discussed in the upcoming meeting between Olmert and Abbas.

"We consider it a one-sided cease- fire," Eisen said. "Israel is restraining itself and they continue to do whatever they want. Expanding the cease-fire is a nonstarter. This one hasn't been kept for a single day."

Rather, Eisen said, the meeting will focus on trying to alleviate the living conditions of the Palestinian people, by easing travel restrictions and the passage of goods.

In a separate development Wednesday, the Israeli police arrested Sheik Raed Salah, leader of the hard-line Islamic Movement in Israel, for provocative behavior during a rally in East Jerusalem. The rally was in protest against ongoing excavation work near an Old City religious site that is holy to Muslims and Jews. The sheik is already facing charges for allegedly assaulting a policeman during another protest last month.

Also on Wednesday, the counterterrorism unit of the prime minister's office warned Israeli citizens not to visit Egypt or Jordan.