Israel arrests Hamas military squad

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The Independent Online
JERUSALEM - In a move that seemed designed to divert growing United Nations concern over Israel's deportation of 413 suspected Islamic militants, the Israeli government yesterday announced that it had arrested 22 members of the movement's military wing, writes Sarah Helm.

Although the 22 are charged with attacking Israeli targets, none were charged with the recent killings of five Israeli soldiers and an Israeli border guard, Nissim Toledano, which led to the deportation of the 413. And none of the 22 arrested were responsible for the murder on Sunday of Haim Nachmani, the member of Shin Bet, the Israeli security service.

Those now being held are members of the Hebron branch of the Ezzedin Kassem brigade, the armed wing of Hamas, the Islamic resistance movement. They had been caught over the past few weeks. The brigade is named after the first Palestinian fedayi who was killed during the 1935 revolt.

Two members of the squad, Jawad Bahar and Sheik Hussein Awaouda, were among those expelled to Lebanon, according to the Defence Ministry. And four other are apparently still at large.

The announcement of the arrests came on the eve of the visit to Israel today by a second United Nations envoy seeking the return of the deportees. The UN Secretary-General, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, told the Security Council on Monday he might have to recommend 'further steps' if Chinmaya Gharekhan failed to secure the deportees' return, and Israel is increasingly fearful that sanctions may now be a serious option.