Israeli officials have welcomed reports that the Palestinian Authority arrested leading Hamas militants, but added that they would wait to see whether the crackdown was genuine.
A Palestinian official said Sunday that Palestinian security forces had arrested three members of Izz a-Din al-Kassam, Hamas’ military wing, including a man thought to be the terror brigade’s commander, Abdel Fatah Satari.
The head of Palestinian security forces in the Gaza Strip, Maj. Gen. Abdel Razek Majaideh, said Satari, along with Salem Marouf and Kamal Khalifa, were arrested Saturday night in Khan Yunis in the Gaza Strip.
Majaideh described the three as important leaders of the Hamas military wing, which has claimed responsibility for four suicide bombings in Israel that claimed 58 victims and left more than 200 wounded.
In the wake of the attacks, Israeli officials called on Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to launch a severe crackdown on Hamas.
“Arafat has made a bit of a beginning, but we hope for more,” Prime Minister Shimon Peres said in a speech Sunday in Tel Aviv.
“I don’t want to hand out grades,” said Peres, who nonetheless applauded the arrests of the three Kassam leaders and of other “top Hamas people.”
Hamas has warned in Pamphlets that it will continue terror attacks against Israel.
On Sunday, the Israel Defense Force announced that it would temporarily lift a blockade imposed last week on Arab towns and villages in the West Bank in the wake of the suicide bombings to allow Palestinians to move freely between the towns in order to stock up on food.
But a separate ban imposed on Palestinians entering Israel would remain in effect, the army added.
Israel’s Cabinet approved Sunday the entry of 16,500 additional foreign workers to take jobs in the construction and agriculture sectors that were filled by Palestinians from the territories before the latest closure was imposed.
Meanwhile, Palestinian sources could not confirm a report that Mohammed al- Deif, the most wanted Hamas militant, had also been arrested.
A delegation of CIA officials, led by Deputy Director George Tenet, met over the weekend with Arafat and called for the arrests of five militants believed to have been behind the recent suicide bombings.
One of the names on the list was Satari, Palestinian officials said.
Meanwhile, Israeli and Palestinian security forces continued a hunt for Hassan Salameh, who is believed to have directed the terrorist cell that recruited the suicide bombers responsible for the Feb. 25 and March 3 bombings in Jerusalem and Ashkelon.
The 24-year-old Salameh, trained in Sudan and Syria, was believed to be hiding in the Ramallah area.
Among those working for Salameh was Mohammed Abu Wardeh, who has confessed to recruiting the suicide bombers who carried out the Jerusalem and Ashkelon attacks.
He was sentenced to life imprisonment by a Palestinian court last week.
Palestinian security forces have detained some 600 fundamentalist militants in a crackdown initiated after the terrorist attacks.
Israeli forces continued to raid towns and villages in the West Bank as part of Israel’s steps against militant activists.