Arafat arrests Hamas sheikh after bombing

Thursday, December 6, 2001

JERUSALEM -- U.S. envoys urged Yasser Arafat to take harsh measures against Islamic militants in meetings and a phone call hours before a suicide bomber detonated explosives Wednesday outside a Jerusalem hotel, further rattling terror-weary Israelis' nerves.

In Arafat's boldest move yet against militants, Palestinian police put Hamas spiritual leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin under house arrest late Wednesday. Hamas has claimed responsibility for dozens of attacks, including deadly weekend suicide bombings in Israel.

Palestinian security officials said Yassin, a quadriplegic, was told he would be allowed no visitors except for relatives, and his telephone lines would be cut.

Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres said he urged the Palestinian leader to arrest 36 suspected terrorist leaders, while other Israeli officials dismissed Arafat's arrests of 151 people in recent days as a show.

Arafat countered that he was determined to break the terror networks in the Palestinian territories, but Israeli military strikes and sieges were making the job impossible.

"They have to cool down to give me the chance," he told ABC News.

More Israeli air attacks

Israel's air force struck Palestinian targets Monday and Tuesday, but there were no Israeli strikes on Wednesday in what Palestinian officials said was a lull aimed at allowing Arafat to act.

An early morning explosion outside a central Jerusalem hotel showed his task was far from finished.

Jerusalem police chief Mickey Levy said the bomber may have gotten nervous and detonated the explosives strapped to his body and packed with nails and bolts too early. The attacker died and two bystanders were lightly injured.

Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility for the blast -- a chilling reminder of a wave of weekend attacks that killed 25 people -- in a statement faxed to The Associated Press.

"This operation is only an introductory and rapid response to the crimes of the Israeli enemy," the statement said. It identified the dead bomber as Dawoud Ali Ahmed Abu Sawi, of Artas near Bethlehem.

The United States told Arafat he must crack down on such activity, Palestinian Cabinet Minister Nabil Shaath said.

U.S. Embassy spokesman Paul Patin said peace envoy Anthony Zinni spoke with Arafat by telephone Tuesday night. The Palestinian leader met shortly afterward with U.S. Consul Ronald Schlicher and Aaron Miller, another member of the Zinni delegation, Patin said.

"The American side asked us to take measures to ensure the cease-fire and the calming," Shaath said.

But Shaath said Israel's attacks on the Palestinians have gotten in the way.

"We are exerting 100 percent efforts to implement our commitments, and the Israelis are exerting 100 percent efforts to topple our efforts," he said. "I wonder how they can ask the Palestinian policemen who are subject to Israeli raids by day to arrest Palestinian militants at night."

Peres said Arafat had made the same complaint to him.

"Yasser Arafat called me and he told me that he wants to take matters in hand but we aren't letting him," Peres said.

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