Islamic Jihad rages after Israel seizes leader from Jenin

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The Independent Online

Israeli soldiers captured a local leader of the Islamic Jihad militant group in the Jenin refugee camp in the West Bank yesterday.

Sheikh Bassam Saadi had been on Israel's wanted list for two years. Israeli soldiers found him hiding under a car in a pre-dawn raid. Islamic Jihad immediately threatened to avenge his capture, and there will be fears of a new militant attack.

Jenin refugee camp, where the Israeli army reduced an entire neighbourhood of more than 100 houses to rubble last year, has long been one of the main centres of Palestinian militancy. Many suicide bombers have been dispatched from its narrow, winding lanes, and the Israeli army frequently raids the refugee camp, looking for militant leaders. Jenin is the home turf of Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, rather than Islamist groups such as Islamic Jihad, but it is one of the few places where the different factions cooperate, which has always made it a particular threat to the Israelis.

Sheikh Saadi, 42, was the leader of Islamic Jihad in Jenin. He always insisted to reporters that he was a leader of the group's political wing, and had nothing to do with the planning and execution of militant attacks - which might explain why he was captured rather than assassinated by the Israelis. But yesterday the Israeli army said it suspected him of dispatching a suicide bomber who killed one Israeli in an attack on a house in a remote village in July.

Israeli soldiers and tanks moved into Jenin refugee camp before dawn yesterday, backed by helicopters. They ordered residents out of one district and started searching house by house. Trained dogs found Sheikh Saadi hiding beneath a car. Palestinian witnesses alleged Israeli soldiers beat him after they found him.

"The enemy will pay a dear price for beating Sheikh Bassam Saadi and for its daily crimes on our people," warned a senior Islamic Jihad leader, Abdullah al-Shami, in Gaza.

Two of Sheikh Saadi's sons had recently been killed in clashes with the Israelis, according to Palestinian sources.

Israel has been actively seeking out Islamic militant leaders for assassination in punishment for suicide bombings. Last month, Israeli missiles were fired at the house of a senior Hamas leader, Mahmoud Zahar, killing his son and bodyguard and leaving about 25 people injured, a day after two suicide bombings killed 15 people in Israel. Mr Zahar escaped with minor injuries.

On 6 September, the founder of Hamas, the wheelchair-bound Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, was slightly hurt by an Israeli missile strike on Gaza City. He vowed that the "jihad will continue". The Israeli army accused him of plotting more suicide attacks.

Also yesterday, Israeli soldiers in plain clothes killed another Islamic Jihad militant and wounded a third in a separate, undercover raid in the West Bank city of Tulkarem.

Islamic Jihad has launched dozens of attacks, including suicide bombings, which have killed hundreds of Israelis during the three-year-old Palestinian uprising. The Palestinians marked the third anniversary of the intifada on Sunday with no sign that either side has a strategy to end the violence, which has killed at least 3,163 people, 502 of them children.

The Palestinian prime minister-designate, Ahmed Qureia, said yesterday that he had reached agreement with Yasser Arafat on the make-up of his Cabinet and would seek Parliament's approval at the weekend. Mr Arafat named Mr Qureia to replace Abu Mazen, who stepped down last month.

Mr Qureia, who is close to Mr Arafat and is also known as Abu Ala, is reported to want an Arafat loyalist, Nasser Youssef, as Interior Minister. He would take over the responsibilities of Mohammed Dahlan, a US favourite and Minister of Security Affairs in the outgoing Cabinet. Israel has not commented on the Cabinet but has said it will not work with any government controlled by Mr Arafat.

* Hamas said yesterday that the security services of an Arab country had foiled an Israeli plot to assassinate several of its political leaders abroad. It gave no details.