Suspected Real IRA member arrested in West Bank

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The Independent Online

A suspected IRA dissident, reported to be training Palestinian militants in the use of explosives, has been arrested by Israeli police in the West Bank. The man, whose identity was not revealed by the police yesterday, is believed to have been detained since Thursday. He was picked up at an army checkpoint near Ramallah.

He is said to have been a member of the Provisional IRA from Newry, Co Down, who defected to the Real IRA four years ago.

According to reports, he arrived at Tel Aviv international airport, ostensibly as a tourist, three weeks ago on a British passport. He slipped over the West Bank border and joined his radical Palestinian clients. The Israelis assume he had been hired to instruct them in advanced techniques.

The Palestinian groups have been eager to develop new weapons and tactics. In May, the Israeli navy captured a Lebanese sabotage specialist on a boat smuggling arms from Lebanon down the Mediterranean coast to Gaza.

News of the arrest was issued as Ariel Sharon, the Israeli Prime Minister, flew to Britain. He will attempt to repair relations with the Government today when he holds private talks with Tony Blair on the Middle East peace process. Mr Sharon will have an informal dinner with Mr Blair this evening after talks with Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, about the deadlock in efforts to implement the road-map peace plan.

Mr Blair is likely to raise the issue of settlements in the West Bank, while Mr Straw will discuss the cases of three Britons shot in the occupied territories.

Anglo-Israeli relations have been strained since Britain hosted a conference on Palestinian reform in January. Israel prevented Palestinian delegates from travelling to the meeting.

Mr Sharon was angered when Mr Blair refused to meet Binyamin Netanyahu, at the time the Israeli Foreign Minister, in January. The Israeli leader will face demonstrations from the Muslim Council of Britain.