Israel has demanded for months that Palestinian police arrest Ahmed Saadat, the leader of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), which took responsibility for last year’s slaying of Israeli Tourism Minister Rehavam Zeevi.
Saadat was summoned to a Ramallah hotel Tuesday evening to meet with Palestinian intelligence chief Tawfiq Tirawi, according to Abdel Rahim Mallouh, deputy leader of the PFLP. Special forces then stormed the meeting and arrested Saadat.
The Israeli government, which has accused the Palestinians of lying in the past about the arrests of militants, said they believe Palestinian officials are indeed detaining Saadat.
The arrest pits Yasser Arafat’s Palestinian Authority against several militant Palestinian groups. Mallouh called the arrest a “very dangerous political development in which the Palestinian Authority takes all the responsibility.”
Wednesday morning, about 800 PFLP supporters staged a protest in Ramallah; angry Palestinians also marched in Bethlehem and Gaza City.
The arrest came hours after Palestinian gunmen killed a 71-year-old American residing in Israel and a 45-year-old Israeli woman driving to a wedding north of Jerusalem.
Palestinian gunmen kidnapped the American man as he went to buy building supplies outside of Bethlehem. They drove him to a deserted area and riddled his body with 20 bullets.
Shortly afterward, two Palestinian gunmen opened fire on a car entering a gas station outside Givat Zeev, an area of northern Jerusalem that Palestinians consider a settlement. One woman died, and her aunt was wounded, according to Israeli police.
A Palestinian man was also found shot to death near the Jewish West Bank settlement of Shavei Shomron. Police say the victim, who had an Israeli ID card and license plates, was probably mistaken for an Israeli Jew.
A renewed cycle of violence
Until this week’s violence, there had been a lull of several weeks due to a truce led by Palestinian Chairman Arafat.
However, following Monday’s killing of popular militia leader Raed Karmi, the last of several Palestinian militant groups ended their cease-fire and said they would renew attacks on Israelis.
Karmi, the leader of the Al Aqsa Brigades, which is linked to Palestinian Leader Yasser Arafat’s Fatah political party, had survived Israeli attacks in the past, but died Monday when a bomb went off near his hideout at a Tulkarem cemetery.
The Al Aqsa Brigades said in a statement that Monday’s shooting death of an Israeli soldier in the West Bank and Wednesday’s shooting outside of Bethlehem were acts of revenge for Karmi’s death.
Israel has not claimed responsibility for the attack on Karmi, but Israeli officials did say the militant leader was a “ticking bomb” who was responsible for the deaths of nine Israelis and was planning a new attack in the near future.
Palestinian officials have accused Israel of murdering Karmi to undermine peace negotiations.
Arafat’s Palestinian Authority issued a statement condemning the killings and affirming its commitment to a cease-fire, but Israeli Prime Minister Sharon said the Palestinian Authority was committed to a strategy of violence.
“They formed a coalition of terror, and no doubt they are responsible for those dangerous developments,” Sharon said.
In the past week, seven Israelis have been killed and three Palestinians have died, including two gunmen who attacked an Israeli army post last Wednesday. Four Israeli soldiers were killed in that attack.