Israel captures planner of suicide attacks

Monday, March 8, 2004

JERUSALEM Israel has captured a Palestinian insurgency commander in the West Bank in what officials termed was a successful effort to foil a suicide attack in the Jewish state.

Israeli special operations forces captured Mohammed Barghouti in the West Bank city of Ramallah during a weekend operation near the headquarters of Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat. Bargouti was identified as a senior commander of the Fatah-dominated Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade. The brigade has claimed responsibility for a series of suicide operations in Jerusalem over the last year, Middle East Newsline reported.

Officials said the Israeli military operation in Ramallah on Saturday succeeded in foiling plans for a Palestinian suicide attack in Jerusalem during the Jewish holiday of Purim. Police had reinforced its presence in Jerusalem over the weekend amid more than 50 alerts of an attack.

The alerts included warnings that Palestinian suicide bombers would don masks to blend in with Jewish revelers on Purim. Officials said the most specific warning received by authorities was of an attack meant to have taken place on late Saturday.

In the Gaza Strip, three Palestinian insurgency groups cooperated in an attack on the Israeli-operated Erez terminal. Israeli officials said at least three Palestinian suicide bombers were sent in three jeeps to attack Israeli military positions in the northern Gaza Strip.

The attackers wore Israeli Army uniforms and drove jeeps that had the military's insignia and license plates. Israeli forces directed heavy fire toward the Palestinian attackers. Two of the jeeps, packed with explosives, blew up near PA police positions south of the Erez terminal.

The third jeep succeeded in approaching an Israeli position at Erez. A Palestinian insurgent, wearing an Israeli army uniform, was killed by Israeli troops. There were no Israeli casualties reported.

Israeli sources said PA police helped stop the Palestinian insurgents from approaching Israeli positions at Erez. They said two PA officers were killed and another 15 were injured when one of the jeeps blew up prematurely in front of a PA police outpost.

Later, the ruling Fatah movement as well as Hamas and Islamic Jihad took joint responsibility for the attacks. They said they would continue to cooperate in the war against Israel.

"This was just the first of future joint operations confirming that we choose resistance and unity," a joint statement said.

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