April 01, 2004
Jerusalem (CNSNews.com) - Israeli troops arrested 12 wanted terrorists hiding in a psychiatric hospital in Bethlehem early Thursday. Some of the suspects were involved in planning suicide attacks, the army said.
Reports from witnesses said about a dozen army vehicles surrounded the institution before dawn and called on the suspects to leave. The Palestinians opened fire from inside the hospital. The Palestinians surrendered after a one-hour gun battle.
Acting on intelligence information, the army carried out what a spokesperson called a "pinpoint" operation to arrest the suspects.
Security sources described nine of the 12 wanted men as "senior terrorists," most of whom belonged to the Al-Aksa Martyrs Brigades of the Tanzim faction of Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat's Fatah organization.
Among those arrested were officers in the PA security forces, who had been involved
in planning and carrying out terrorist attacks, the sources said.
According to one report, Jamal Hamamreh is believed to have been involved in the suicide bomb attack in January in which 11 people were killed by a Palestinian policemen from the Bethlehem area who blew himself up on a Jerusalem bus.
Colonel Nadav Padan, brigade commander in the area, was quoted as saying that the arrests of the wanted men had prevented a terrorist attack from occurring during the Passover holiday.
Two years ago, Israel suffered its worst terror attack of the more than three and a half year intifadah when a suicide bomber walked into the Park Hotel in Netanya and blew himself up at the beginning of the traditional Passover meal celebrated on the eve of the holiday, killing 29 people.
Israeli security forces have been on heightened alert ahead of the weeklong Passover holiday, which begins next Monday evening, particularly in the wake of Israel's targeted killing of Hamas leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin last week. Hamas has threatened all-out revenge for the killing.
In the meantime, three top Washington diplomats were meeting on Thursday with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to discuss his proposed unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip.
Several months ago, Sharon said that if the Palestinians did not uphold their part of President Bush's road map peace plan, i.e. dismantle the terrorist infrastructure, Israel would consider making unilateral moves.
Those moves would include relocating most if not all of Israeli communities where some 7,500 settlers living out of the Gaza Strip as well as dismantling several Jewish communities in the West Bank.