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Middle East

Israel arrests 'militant who killed 78'

Israeli security forces have arrested a leading Hamas militant said by the army to have been sought since 1988 for carrying out attacks which claimed the lives of 78 civilians and soldiers.

The seizure came after Ismail Haniyeh, the Palestinian Prime Minister and Hamas leader, told a leading Israeli newspaper that the faction would offer a "long-term ceasefire" if Israel ended the occupation of the West Bank and returned to 1967 borders.

Sheikh Ibrahim Hamed, 41, said by the army to be head of Hamas's military wing in the West Bank, surrendered after troops opened fire at the house where he was staying and began to bulldoze the walls.

Israel holds the Hamas commander responsible for a series of suicide bombings, including the March 2002 attack which killed 12 people at Jerusalem's Moment Cafe close to the Prime Minister's official residence, and the double bombing on a single day in September 2003 which killed 17 people at the Hillel Café in Jerusalem and at a bus stop near the Tsrifin military base.

According to Mohammed Azzam, 48, a Palestinian witness of the arrest operation, the force surrounded the house and ordered Sheikh Hamed to leave. He initially refused, but left when troops began attacking the house, warning him they would demolish it.

In his interview with Haaretz, Mr Haniyeh said: "If Israel withdraws to the 1967 borders, peace will prevail and we will implement a ceasefire for many years. Our government is prepared to maintain a long-term cease-fire."

Mr Haniyeh refused to discuss the Hamas charter, which rejects Israel's existence, saying: "Leave Hamas aside now - I am speaking to you as the leader of the Palestinian government, the government of all the Palestinians, and not as the leader of a movement."