Leader detained in Israeli official's death

Wednesday, January 16, 2002

RAMALLAH, West Bank -- Palestinian police have detained the leader of a faction that claimed responsibility for the assassination of an Israeli cabinet minister -- a move that appeared to be aimed at defusing spiraling tensions.

The move came just hours after gunmen shot and killed two Israelis in the West Bank: a 72-year-old Israeli-American man shopping for building supplies and a 45-year-old woman driving to a wedding.

Officials from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine confirmed that Ahmed Saadat had been detained. The Front had claimed responsibility for killing Tourism Minister Rehavan Zeevi on Oct. 17.

Israel has said it would not lift its travel restrictions on Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, until those responsible for the minister's death were in detention. Arafat has been restricted to Ramallah for more than a month.

The detention appeared to be an attempt by the Palestinian Authority, led by Arafat, to salvage the cease-fire that has become extremely tenuous and stop tensions from spiraling out of control.

But Israeli officials dismissed the detention, saying they wanted proof that Saadat was being held. They also demanded that the Palestinian Authority turn over Zeevi's assassins.

"I'm not sure that he's been arrested," said Raanan Gissin, an adviser to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

"He and the other members who perpetrated the act, they have to be put in jail and interrogated," Gissin said. "And after that they have to be extradited."

Protest march

In Ramallah, where Saadat was detained, some 250 people gathered late at night and marched toward Arafat's office shouting slogans against the Palestinian Authority. In Gaza, some 100 supporters of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine gathered for a brief demonstration that dispersed after a few hours.

Saadat's deputy, Abdel Rahim Mallouh, said Saadat was detained during a meeting with an official of the Palestinian Authority.

"This is a political action, which has very dangerous political consequences," Mallouh said. "We consider this a response that they have accepted all American pressure and Israeli demands."

Latest killing

In Tuesday's killing, engineer Avi Boaz drove to the Palestinian town of Beit Jalla, looking for materials for a house he's building in a Jewish settlement in the West Bank.

Gunmen riddled his car with 13 bullets, hitting Boaz in the head, said Gissin.

Palestinian police were present when the shooting took place, but did not attempt to stop it, according to Gissin.

Boaz's corpse was thrown onto a soccer field before Palestinian authorities later returned it to Israel, according to the Israelis. "It was a clear and plain, indiscriminate, bloody murder," Gissin said.

Palestinian authorities confirmed the killing and said they were searching for suspects. The Israeli-born Boaz also had U.S. citizenship and traveled between the two countries, Israeli officials said.

A leaflet from the Al Aqsa Brigades, a militia linked to Arafat's Fatah movement, claimed responsibility for the killing. The leader of the Al Aqsa Brigades in the West Bank town of Tulkarem was killed Monday in a bombing.

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