Hamas militant escapes from Palestinian jail


JERUSALEM, Dec. 7 (JTA) — A lull in the recent Israeli-Palestinian violence again has proven short-lived.

On Thursday, five Israelis were wounded, one critically, in Palestinian attacks in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

The attacks came as Palestinian sources confirmed that Hamas militant Mohammed Deif, who tops Israel’s most-wanted list for his involvement in terrorist attacks, has escaped from a Palestinian jail.

According to Israel Radio, a Hamas Web site claimed that Mohammed Dahlan, the head of Palestinian security in Gaza, helped Deif escape. Deif and Dahlan reportedly became friendly while serving time together in an Israeli jail.

According to the site, Dahlan arranged for Deif to be moved to a safe house amid concern that Israel might bomb the jail to assassinate Deif.

In the West Bank, an Israeli soldier was critically wounded and another soldier and woman were moderately hurt in a drive-by shooting. The driver of their car was treated for shock.

At the Erez Crossing between Israel and Gaza, a Palestinian stabbed an Israeli, moderately wounding him. Another Israeli witnessed the attack and tried to stop the assailant, who stabbed him as well. The second Israeli drew his gun and killed the attacker.

The attacks came as Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat met in Gaza with relatives of Israelis killed in the ongoing conflict.

Yitzhak Frankenthal, whose son Arik, a soldier, was kidnaped and murdered in Gaza in 1994, said the families pressed Arafat on Thursday to help end the fighting. Earlier this week, the group set up a protest tent in Tel Aviv calling on Israel and the Palestinians to restart peace talks.

Arafat expressed appreciation for their visit, and stressed the importance of working together.

“We are living on land together,” he was quoted as saying. “It is important there is partnership based on relations of cooperation and faith.”

Also Thursday, Israel and the United States continued contacts to finalize the framework of an upcoming visit by members of an international panel charged with probing the causes of the violence in the territories.

Reports said the head of the panel, former Sen. George Mitchell, would meet Monday with Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak. It was not clear whether the group would begin any fact-gathering during its first visit.

After Palestinian officials confirmed that Deif had escaped jail, an Israeli security source was quoted as saying Israel holds the Palestinian Authority responsible for Deif’s activities.

Palestinian officials would not comment on the report that Dahlan helped Deif escape.

Earlier reports had said Deif managed to slip away from Palestinian guards while being transferred between facilities, and that Arafat had put out an order that he wanted him back “dead or alive.”

But Israeli security forces believe that Deif’s Palestinian guards may have cooperated with him.

Deif is wanted by Israel for involvement in several terrorist attacks, including a spate of suicide bombings in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv in February and March 1996.

He is also believed responsible for the abduction and murder of several Israeli soldiers, including Nachshon Waxman in 1994.

Deif was detained by Palestinian security forces last May. When the Palestinian violence erupted in late September, Deif was initially believed to have been released from Palestinian jails along with other Islamic militants.

Reports last week, however, said that Deif and another militant, Mahmoud Abu Hanoud, remained in detention.

At the same time, security sources told the Israeli daily Ha’aretz that even during his detention, Deif was able to remain in contact with Hamas activists in the field.

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