RAMALLAH, West Bank (AFP) – Israeli troops captured the West Bank supremo of the armed wing of governing Islamist movement Hamas in a morning incursion into the political capital of the Palestinian Authority.
Ibrahim Hamed, a top Hamas militant, was wanted in Israel for the past eight years for masterminding a series of suicide bombings which killed more than 60 Israelis and wounded hundreds more.
The 41-year-old leader of the Ezzedin al-Qassam Brigades in the West Bank has been on Israel’s wanted list since 1998 but had previously escaped capture or assassination, in part by keeping perpetually on the move.
But his luck ran out when Israeli soldiers, police and special forces piled into Ramallah, the West Bank base of Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas, opened fire and circled a building near the Palestinian leader’s home.
Troops fired towards the building, 200 metres (yards) from Abbas’s house, and demanded that the militant surrender, an AFP correspondent said.
“Security forces arrested senior Hamas terrorist Ibrahim Hamed, who masterminded some of the most deadly terror attacks against Israel in recent years,” the army announced.
Although Israel accused Hamed of plotting new bombings, Hamas has staved off such attacks since agreeing to a period of calm in early 2005 and deciding to contest last January’s parliamentary election, which it won by a landslide.
Shortly before Hamed’s arrest, Hamas prime minister Ismail Haniya said peace would prevail if Israel withdrew from all the land it captured in 1967, namely the West Bank and east Jerusalem.
Haniya told the Israeli newspaper Haaretz that Hamas, which does not recognise Israel’s right to exist, would institute a long-term ceasefire, or hudna, if the Jewish state left all of the West Bank and east Jerusalem.
“If Israel withdraws to the 1967 borders, peace will prevail and we will implement a hudna for many years,” Haniya said.
Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades has been behind scores of bombings in the past decade and its campaign of violence was seen by the Palestinians as instrumental in prompting Israel’s withdrawal from the Gaza Strip last year.
The West continues to boycott Hamas as a terrorist organisation regardless of its rise to power, citing the Islamists’ refusal to recognise Israel’s right to exist, renounce violence or abide by past peace agreements.
Israel refuses to have any dealings with the Palestinian government and is drawing up plans to retain the largest settlement blocs in the occupied West Bank albeit while withdrawing tens of thousands of Jews from the territory.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was to outline the project to US President George W. Bush at the White House later Tuesday, although he is expected to try first before launching the plan to hold talks with Abbas to reach a negotiated agreement.
A power struggle between Hamas and the Palestinian leader’s Fatah movement has spilled over into deadly clashes, however, and underscored Abbas’s weakness, bolstering claims that such talks will bare little fruit.
“He is powerless. He is helpless,” Olmert told CNN on Sunday.