Israelis Capture Top Hamas Fugitive
Wednesday, May 24, 2006; 12:32 AM
RAMALLAH, West Bank -- A top Hamas fugitive blamed for attacks that killed dozens of Israelis and five Americans surrendered to Israeli troops Tuesday after they ringed his West Bank hideout and threatened to demolish it with him inside.
The capture of Ibrahim Hamed, 41, was a blow to Hamas' morale as the Islamic militants engaged in an increasingly bloody power struggle with gunmen and police loyal to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
Army Col. Amir Abulafiyeh, who oversaw the capture, described Hamed as "creative and cruel" in plotting attacks on a Jerusalem university, where the Americans were killed; an Israeli fuel depot; Israel's rail system; and a pool hall.
Troops acting on a tip surrounded Hamed's hideout in a two-story building in a well-to-do district of Ramallah, just 200 yards from Abbas' residence. A dozen jeeps and two armored personnel carriers surrounded the cement-block building, which had a yellow awning, and soldiers called on Hamed over loudspeakers to surrender.
Soldiers warned him in Arabic that the building would be razed if he did not come out.
Witnesses said an army bulldozer rammed against the green metal shutters of a ground-floor shop when Hamed did not come out. Thirty minutes later, he emerged wearing a light-colored shirt and gray pants.
Following instructions over the loudspeaker, he took off his clothes and walked toward the soldiers in his underwear. Palestinian militants surrendering to troops are routinely asked to strip to make sure they are not carrying explosives.
After the arrest, soldiers entered the building and blew out the doors and windows in two sparsely furnished top-floor apartments while a robot searched for explosives. Troops removed clothes from the building and found two loaded pistols.
In Gaza City, a high-level meeting of the rival camps, aimed at reducing tensions, produced no results. But Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas insisted recent street violence would not lead to civil war.
Abbas' Fatah movement demanded that Hamas withdraw its 3,000-strong force of militants deployed last week, but Haniyeh was noncommittal. Instead, the prime minister said he would urge his supporters to show restraint and soften their rhetoric.
The Hamas-Fatah talks followed two weeks of deadly clashes that left eight people dead, including an aide to the Jordanian ambassador.
On Wednesday, three Hamas militants were kidnapped by gunmen after they left a Gaza mosque and were beaten and shot, a Hamas official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to the media. The official said it appeared Fatah was responsible for the attack, which left the militants wounded.
The fighting has been confined to Gaza, where Hamas is strongest. In the West Bank, which is still under Israeli control, Hamas militants largely remain underground to avoid arrest, and Fatah gunmen outnumber those of Hamas.
The increasingly unstable situation in the Palestinian territories was the backdrop to a meeting in Washington between President Bush and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. Bush urged Israel to reach out to Abbas as an alternative to dealing with the Hamas-dominated government.
Abbas "speaks out for peace and negotiations," Bush said.
Hamas is considered a terrorist group by the United States and European Union, both of which have cut off aid to the Palestinian government. On Tuesday, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to stop funding non-governmental groups working in the West Bank and Gaza _ except for health programs _ and to deny visas to Palestinian Authority members.
The measure also bans contacts with Hamas and limits Bush's authority to waive the aid bans. The administration believes the legislation goes too far.
Tuesday's arrest of Hamed, the West Bank commander of the Hamas military wing, was a further setback to the group. Hamed had evaded Israeli troops for eight years.
Israel said Hamed masterminded a series of attacks that killed 78 people, most of them Israelis, and five Americans, who died in a July 2002 blast at the cafeteria of Jerusalem's Hebrew University.
The attack, which wounded more than 80 people, shattered tranquility in one of the few places where young Israelis and Arabs mixed freely.
The American victims were Marla Bennett, 24, from San Diego; Benjamin Blutstein, 25, from Susquehanna Township, Pa.; Janis Coulter, 36, from New York; David Gritz, 24, from Peru, Mass.; and Dina Carter, 38, from Greensboro, N.C.
Abulafiyeh said Hamed recruited some assailants at the West Bank's Bir Zeit University, where he earned degrees in history and political science in 1993.
Hamed's nephew, Ayman, said his uncle had been wanted by Israel since 1998. He had been held in a Palestinian jail for involvement in the Hamas military wing but was released in 2002 during an Israeli military offensive in the West Bank.
Hamed grew up in the West Bank village of Silwad, near Ramallah, and belongs to the same clan as Khaled Mashaal, the top Hamas leader based in Damascus, Syria.