Leading Hamas operative captured

Special to World
Monday, December 22, 2003

JERUSALEM Israel's military has captured one of Hamas's top operatives in the West Bank.

Israeli troops arrested Adnan Asfour in the West Bank city of Nablus over the weekend. Israeli sources said Asfour has become the leading operative in the Nablus region and the spokesman of the group in the entire West Bank.

Special operations forces surrounded Asfour's hideout, located in his brother's five-story apartment building on Sunday. The sources said after the building was evacuated Asfour was arrested and a computer as well as maps were seized.

The arrest of Asfour, 38, was regarded as the key achievement in a nearly week-long Israeli military operation in the Nablus area. Israeli troops have searched for suicide bombers and their handlers in Nablus as well as the adjacent Balata refugee camp.

The search operation in Balata was often conducted from house to house. In some cases, Palestinians hurled firebombs and stones at soldiers, who responded with tear gas and rubber bullets.

The capture of Asfour came as Palestinian Authority sources assert that the United States has tried to persuade Hamas to agree to a ceasefire with Israel. The sources said that in October former State Department officials met Hamas through Qatar and Syria, which have been harboring senior operatives of the insurgency group. Hamas has denied the reported contacts.

In Jerusalem, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has received a letter from 13 reserve members of the elite General Reconnaissance Forces, or Sayeret Matcal. The letter announced that the soldiers would no longer serve in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

This was the second time that elite reserve soldiers have announced their refusal to join in operations in PA areas. During the summer, 27 reserve air force pilots said they would no longer participate in air missions against Palestinian targets in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

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