Israel arrests 82 West Bank Palestinian militants27/09/2005 - 06:58:35
Israel today arrested 82 alleged Palestinian militants in the West Bank, bringing the three-day total to nearly 400 in the largest arrest sweep in recent months.
The detentions have come in tandem with an Israeli military offensive against the Islamic militant group Hamas whose activists bombarded southern Israel from Gaza with dozens of home-made rockets over the weekend.
Israel has been hitting Hamas targets in Gaza, including wanted men and weapons factories, in missile strikes in recent days. However, after pulling out of Gaza, Israel can no longer carry out arrests in the coastal territory.
In the West Bank sweep, the vast majority of those rounded up were Hamas members.
Hamas leaders allege Israel is targeting its political leaders and that key candidates for Palestinian parliament elections in January were among those rounded up. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has said he doesn’t want Hamas to participate in the parliament election unless the group disarms.
“Sharon doesn’t want Hamas to reach the Palestinian parliament,” said Hamas spokesman Mushir al-Masri.
“He is using every possible means to block Hamas and push it aside. These arrested leaders … of the first and second level, with one aim, to weaken Hamas, particularly before the legislative elections.”
Hamas has not yet published its list of candidates for the election, but several likely contenders were among those rounded up.
These included Hassan Yousef and Mohammed Ghazal, two outspoken West Bank leaders who have advocated the transformation of Hamas into a political party. Others in Hamas, particularly in Gaza, say the group must continue carrying out attacks against Israel.
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