Hamas Leader Under House Arrest
Witnesses said a Palestinian policeman entered Sheikh Ahmed Yassin’s home in Gaza City Wednesday evening.
Sheikh Ahmed Yassin is the spiritual leader of the militant group that has claimed responsibility for dozens of attacks against Israelis, including three suicide bombings that killed 25 people over the weekend.
Palestinian security officials said only relatives would be allowed to visit and Yassin’s telephone lines would be cut. Yassin, a wheelchair-bound quadriplegic, was in an Israeli prison for several years, but was released in 1997 after Israel tried to assassinate a Hamas leader in Jordan.
The crackdown comes after Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres challenged Palestinian President Yasser Arafat Wednesday to take swift action to arrest militants blamed for the suicide attacks.
“I told him that in my judgment, the greatest problem before the Palestinian Authority is the rate of its credibility, which is extremely low right now,” Peres said. “I think the coming 12 hours should be a quiet period of time and he can restore the credibility by making the necessary arrests of people who are really producing terror.”
He said Israel has given Arafat a list of 36 people to arrest.
The Palestinian leader told ABC that he was doing his best to round up militants, but Israeli airstrikes are making it hard for his security forces to move around the Palestinian territories.
Israeli warplanes and helicopter gunships attacked targets across the West Bank and Gaza Tuesday, firing one missile just yards away from Arafat’s West Bank office while he was inside. Arafat was not hurt, but a 15-year-old boy and a policeman were killed in Gaza.
“They [the Israelis] have to cool down to give me the chance,” Arafat said in an interview with ABC News.
Arafat added that the Palestinian forces have arrested 131 people in the past 48 hours. Israel contends that only low-level militants have been detained, and that the masterminds behind the bombings remain free.
Another Palestinian suicide bomber blew himself up outside a Jerusalem luxury hotel Wednesday, wounding three people. The device, strapped to the bomber’s body, exploded prematurely as he crossed the road. According to police, the relatively empty street was showered with parts of the bomber’s body, as well as nails and shrapnel.
The militant group Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility for Wednesday’s attack. In a statement faxed to Reuters, it said the bomber was on his way to attack a security target inside a hotel, where “Zionist” leaders were present. Public Security Minister Uzi Landau was reportedly in the hotel at the time.
Meanwhile, the accelerated military action against Palestinian targets has deepened a rift in Sharon’s coalition over how to respond to the 14-month-old Palestinian uprising.
Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and other center-left Labor Party ministers met Tuesday to consider pulling out of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s national unity government. They decided to postpone a decision.
Most Labor ministers object to Tuesday’s Cabinet declaration of Yasser Arafat’s Palestinian Authority as “a terror-supporting entity.”
A spokesman for Peres said his party will draft a list of government policies that have violated the coalition agreement between Israel’s two leading parties.
Peres will review the list with Sharon and meet again with Labor members on Dec. 17 to vote on whether they will remain in government.
If Labor pulls out of the coalition, Sharon would still have a narrow majority in parliament.
The Bush administration has stopped short of criticizing Israel’s retaliatory strikes, saying that the Israelis have the right to defend themselves. President Bush said the onus is now on Arafat to “prove whether or not he is for peace.”
U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson called for immediate action to stop the violence, saying “it would be helpful to have international monitors on the ground.”
Palestinian officials are in favor of outside monitors, but Israel opposes them, saying they would not be neutral.
Former U.S. Marine Corps Gen. Anthony Zinni is in Jerusalem spearheading a peace mission launched in an effort to cement Arab support for its war against terrorism. A State Department spokesman said Zinni would stay in the region “at this point” to try to arrange a cease-fire.