West Bank raids pave way for Albright

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Palestinian security men with lists of suspects allegedly belonging to militant Islamic organisations went from house to house in the West Bank yesterday making the first widespread arrests since three suicide bombers killed five Israelis in Jerusalem last week.

The arrests come as Yasser Arafat, the Palestinian leader, is expected to meet Madeleine Albright, the US Secretary of State, in Jericho on Thursday. The US and Israel have demanded the mass arrest of suspected members of Hamas, the militant Islamic party, which claimed the suicide bombings.

As a fifth person died as a result of injuries received in the Ben Yehuda street bombing last Thursday, Israeli police tried to secure other potential targets, such as a covered shopping mall, from another attack while Mrs Albright is in Israel. "We know that in essence there is an aim of torpedoing this visit," said Avigdor Kahalani, the Public Security minister. "What could happen is the same action - the kind of action - as happened last week."

In a message to David Levy, the Israeli Foreign Minister, Mr Arafat said he would "not tolerate violence and terror, committed either by Palestinians or Israelis." At the weekend Mr Levy had told the Israeli cabinet that he would not let them abandon the Oslo accords, the basis for the current attempts to forge a peace settlement.

Some 35 people were arrested by Palestinian security yesterday, but there are unlikely to be the mass arrests of last year when 900 suspects were detained. Ziyad Abu Amr, a Palestinian legislator and a specialist on Hamas, said mass detentions without trial "are not feasible. Arafat does not want to see another Algeria in Gaza. People only swallowed the arrests last year because they expected benefits from Oslo. [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu is giving them nothing."

Hamas is taking advantage of the disenchanted and cynical mood among Palestinians, says Mr Abu Amr. They believe the Oslo accords are dead and Mr Arafat's Palestinian Authority corrupt. He said: "The more Islamic Palestinians also have a genuine fear over the future of Jerusalem. It is being Judaised by the day."

Mr Abu Amr said there was no real evidence that the leadership of Hamas was divided between militants and moderates or between those inside the country and those abroad. It was also probable that Hamas is used to wage proxy war against Israel by Syria, Iran and others "to send a message that there are limits to Israeli power".

Israel has protested against what it says is a "revolving door policy" whereby suspects are arrested only to be released. Human rights organisations say that in practice this means internment without trial accompanied by torture.

Israel is also demanding the extraditing of Ghazi al-Jabali, the Palestinian police chief, accusing him of ordering three Palestinian policemen to attack Israeli targets in July, though no one was injured. Mr Jabali said: "They [Israel] always use the theory of lies, lies, and lies, until they believe their own lies." He denies the charge.

Meanwhile, at a checkpoint near the entrance to Hebron, Israeli soldiers bound and severely beat a Palestinian yesterday and then fired tear gas when passers-by attempted to intervene, witnesses said. According to them, Ashraf al-Hdoush, 20, was in his car when he was stopped by 15 Israeli soldiers. One bystander said the soldiers "beat him until blood started gushing out of his head, mouth and ears". The Israeli army was checking the report.