PLO police arrest Hamas militants

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The Independent Online
GAZA CITY - Under intense pressure from Israel and the United States, Yasser Arafat's police yesterday arrested more than 100 Islamic militants in a sweep to find a kidnapped Israeli soldier. Leaders of the fundamentalist Hamas movement accused the PLO of doing Israel's 'dirty work' and threatened violence.

A leaflet issued yesterday by Hamas' underground military wing, the Izzedine al-Qassam Brigades, renewed the threat to kill Nachshon Waxman, aged 19, if Israel failed to release the founder of Hamas and other prisoners by nine tonight. 'If those who are listed in the leaflet are not released, headed by Sheik Ahmed Yassin, then the soldier will be executed a short while after the deadline,' Hamas warned. The leaflet, addressed to the Israeli Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin, contradicted Israel's claim that the soldier was held in Gaza, saying he was in 'an area you are occupying and not in a silly autonomous one'.

Mr Rabin and the visiting US Secretary of State, Warren Christopher, warned Mr Arafat he would be held accountable for the safe return of Corporal Waxman, a dual US-Israeli citizen. Mr Christopher said that Washington had 'emphasised to Chairman Arafat his responsibility for the resolution of this


In a sharply worded speech in Gaza City, Mr Arafat warned the Islamic militants that he would 'not allow any defiance' and vowed to confront any challenge to law and order. He indirectly accused Iran of meddling in Palestinian affairs by backing Islamic fundamentalist opponents who have plunged the Israel-PLO peace process into its greatest crisis.

'We will not allow the misuse of this homeland to serve the decisions and orders which are given to some people here from outside,' he said. An official statement from the self-rule government said that more than 100 Islamic militants were arrested. Sources in Hamas estimated that 110 were being held. The Palestinian authorities said it had no solid proof to back Israeli charges that the soldier is in Gaza.

Mahmoud Zahar, a senior political leader in Hamas, said the Islamic resistance movement had tried 'all peaceful means' to free the 200 activists jailed by Israel that are now demanded in exchange for the kidnapped soldier.

'It failed, and they were forced into the kidnapping,' Mr Zahar said at his home, where shattered glass and a footprint on a door bore witness to a police raid after midnight.

(Photograph omitted)