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Arafat arrests, shelters fugitives wanted by Israel

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Sunday, August 3, 2003

RAMALLAH Palestinian Authority sources said 17 Fatah insurgents wanted by Israel were arrested and ordered to leave for Jericho. They said the fugitives were members of the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade and had obtained haven in the compound of PA Chairman Yasser Arafat.

Arafat, the sources said, approved the arrests, carried out by his praetorian guard, Force 17. They said the arrests comprised the Israeli condition to allow freedom of movement for Arafat.

So far, five of the 17 agreed to be transferred to Jericho. The others have refused.

On Saturday, the Fatah-dominated Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades threatened to end a truce in the war against Israel, Middle East Newsline reported. Al Aqsa said the PA decision to arrest Palestinians wanted by Israel was a violation of the ceasefire.

"Some 20 activists of Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades wanted by Israel have been detained in Ramallah and are expected to be transferred to Jericho to find a solution to their problem," PA minister without portfolio Abdul Fatah Al Amayel said. "Those activists are subject to Israeli threats and we felt it incumbent upon us to provide a safe haven for them."

The standoff has prompted a hunger strike by other fugitives in Arafat's compound. Several dozen fugitives remain in Arafat's headquarters in Ramallah.

"We have ordered the resumption everywhere of our attacks and in particular suicide operations," Al Aqsa said in a statement.

PA sources said the arrest of insurgents and their proposed detention in Jericho was regarded as a temporary arrangement. They said PA Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas was under pressure from Israel and the United States to demonstrate movement against Palestinian insurgency groups.

In the Gaza Strip, two explosions were reported on Saturday. At least two Palestinians were injured in an explosion of a weapons arsenal in Khan Yunis.

In another incident, a 14-year-old was injured when a suspicious object exploded in Dir El Balah. Palestinian sources said the object came from another Palestinian arsenal.

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