Arafat police seize 90 Islamists

Palestinian police in Gaza yesterday arrested 90 Islamic militants as the PLO chairman, Yasser Arafat, prepared to meet the Israeli Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin, in an attempt to persuade him to end the closure of the occupied territories. Mr Ar afat last night signed an order to set up a military court to strengthen security in autonomous Palestinian areas.

Mr Rabin is expected to lift gradually the ban on Palestinians moving in and out of the West Bank and Gaza which is crippling the local economy. Mr Arafat wants to show he is in charge in Gaza and can make good on his promise to fight "fanatic and extremist forces" opposed to his 1993 peace agreement with Israel.

The clampdown is targeting the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, which claimed responsibility for killing an Israeli security guard in Gaza earlier this week. Palestinian police also closed a press office associated with Islamic Jihad,which carried out the suicide bombing at Beit Lid last month, killing 21 Israelis.

At the same time Israeli security arrested 21 Muslim militants in the West Bank as part of their continuing response to Beit Lid and five other bomb attacks. Earlier, Israel arrested 300 Palestinians they believe belong to Hamas or Islamic Jihad.

Few Israeli officials believe the arrests or the closure of the West Bank and Gaza will stop suicide bombers. The military wings of Hamas and Islamic Jihad are far more difficult to penetrate than the PLO was before 1993. Police believe the Beit Lid attack was launched from the West Bank, where the Israelis are in charge of security.

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