JERUSALEM (Jun. 6)
Israeli security officials have announced the arrest of 120 suspected Islamic fundamentalist militants, including a Jerusalem gang responsible for the murder of several Israeli police officers and civilians.
The government said Sunday that the captured gang of four men in eastern Jerusalem had confessed to the kidnapping and killing of a policeman last December that prompted the deportation of 415 fundamentalist activists to Lebanon.
According to Israeli officials, the four arrested Palestinians became linked to the armed wing of the Islamic fundamentalist Hamas group, only after the kidnapping and murder of Sgt. Maj. Nissim Toledano in December.
The Jerusalem gang also admitted it had murdered two traffic police officers who were sleeping in their patrol car in Israel proper on March 30. And they confessed to running down and killing two Israeli settlers standing on the side of a road in the West Bank on March 15.
Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin said the arrests were a big blow to Hamas. Rabin, who also serves as defense minister, once again defended the government’s controversial expulsion of the Hamas activists last December, a move that was condemned by the U.N. Security Council.
Rabin congratulated the Shin Bet, Israel’s domestic security agency, for its success in cracking the network. The capture and interrogation of the suspects is expected to aid intelligence efforts in penetrating the remaining operations of Hamas cells and other extremist Palestinian groups.
But Rabin and Lt. Gen. Ehud Barak, the Israel Defense Force chief of staff, warned against complacency, saying the threat of terrorism continues and the fight against it will remain constant.
“Even tonight armed terrorists can carry out terror acts despite this successful operation,” said Barak.
Police Minister Moshe Shahal said the opera tion dealt “a severe and damaging blow” to Hamas, but that the territories had not been cleared of Hamas activists and the hunt was on for others.
According to Rabin, the eastern Jerusalem gang was able to use Israeli identity cards and Israeli license plates to help it carry out its crimes.
The arrested men are also suspected of being involved in a number of car bombings, including one in the West Bank that killed the bomber and a Palestinian worker at the gas station where it exploded.
The car bomb went off next to two buses used to carry Israeli soldiers, but the soldiers were not inside at the time.
The arrested men are also suspected of having planned a number of thwarted car bombings in major urban centers.
Rabin, Barak and other security officials said the arrested men confirmed that the army’s move to close off the West Bank and Gaza Strip more than two months ago had made it more difficult for them to carry out their operations.