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Israel captures Hamas cell that targeted Sharon

Monday, March 4, 2003

JERUSALEM Israel has captured a Hamas cell that intended to assassinate Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

Officials said the Hamas cell was captured on Feb. 7 and sought to plant a bomb along a route used by Sharon's convoy. The officials did not say when and where Hamas planned the attack.

"The reality is that there are many terrorists who are planning attacks, every day, every hour," Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz said. "We are increasing our pressure on Hamas."

Officials said Israeli authorities foiled 57 Palestinian insurgency attacks over the last month, the lion's share of them suicide bombings. They said 44 Palestinian suspects were arrested during that period.

The Hamas cell that targeted Sharon also intended to bomb an Israeli synagogue, officials said. They did not elaborate.

In another development, Palestinian insurgents have renewed attacks on Jerusalem. After nearly a year of quiet, Palestinian gunners opened fire on the Gilo neighborhood of Jerusalem. Gilo is less than a kilometer away from the northern outskirts of Bethlehem.

The Palestinian shooting attack on Gilo was reported on late Sunday. Nobody was injured.

No Palestinian organization immediately claimed credit for the shooting, believed to have emanated either from Bethlehem or the Bet Jallah suburb. Bethlehem has been largely controlled by the Palestinian Authority and the ruling Fatah movement, which had ended attacks on Jerusalem.

Last week, Fatah insurgents also called for an end to Palestinian missile attacks on Israeli communities. The so-called "Victory Brigades" said Israel has exploited Hamas missile attacks by capturing more territory in the Gaza Strip.

"We all made mistakes and we all bear responsibility for those mistakes at different levels," Fatah said in the communique.

This was the latest call by Fatah or the PA against Hamas missile attacks in the Gaza Strip. In October and November of 2002 various groups issued similar requests. In December, a Palestinian was killed and nine others were injured when two mortars fired by Palestinian gunners landed in a Palestinian residential area near the Erez border terminal.

ISRAEL RAIDS PALESTINIAN CAMP; 8 DEAD GAZA CITY [MENL] -- An Israeli combined task force struck suspected Hamas targets for the second straight day in the Gaza Strip.

Palestinian sources said dozens of tanks, armored personnel carriers and bulldozers entered the Bureij refugee camp in the central part of the strip. They said eight people were killed in heavy fighting between Israeli troops and Palestinian insurgents on early Monday.

Israeli military sources did not confirm the Palestinian casualty figure. But they said the Israeli force encountered heavy resistance from Hamas and aligned combatants. They said the Palestinians detonated bombs and directed rocket-propelled grenades and semi-automatic fire toward the Israeli troops.

The Israeli force demolished four buildings in Bureij and captured six wanted Palestinians. Military sources said the Israeli operation targeted Hamas insurgents in Bureij and was part of a campaign against the organization.

Palestinian sources said eight Palestinians were killed and 25 injured, including civilians. They said the Israeli force captured a major Hamas insurgent, Mohammed Taha, 67, regarded as a major gun-runner in the area.

On Sunday, a combined Israeli infantry-tank-helicopter force raided the Gaza Strip city of Khan Yunis. The force destroyed three buildings, including an eight-story structure. = = =

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