Arafat arrests scores on eve of Albright visit Israel raises stakes in peace process, issues new security demands


JERUSALEM -- Under heavy Israeli and U.S. pressure to crack down on Islamic militants after recent suicide bombings in Jerusalem, the Palestinian authority was reported yesterday to have arrested scores of suspected members of the militant Hamas movement in the Gaza Strip.

The sweeps, the widest in more than a year, came on the eve of a visit to the Middle East by Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright. She has urged Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to take action against militant groups.

Hamas members and a Palestinian security officer in Gaza said that the police had rounded up as many as 200 members of the movement for questioning overnight Monday and that 50 to 100 of them had been jailed.

David Bar-Illan, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's communications director, said: "It can be a step in the right direction. The timing should have been earlier, not just before the secretary's visit."

None of those arrested were described as members of the Qassam Brigades, the armed wing of Hamas that claimed responsibility for suicide attacks in Jerusalem Thursday and July 30 that killed 25 people including the five bombers.

Netanyahu and Albright have demanded that Arafat move decisively against militant organizations in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, even though Israeli investigators have yet to establish the identity and affiliation of the bombers who struck recently in Jerusalem.

Netanyahu dismissed the arrests of 35 suspected Hamas members by the Palestinian police in the West Bank last weekend as "cosmetic." Palestinian officials said that in the West Bank the arrests had included members of the military and political wings of Hamas and had been intended to help trace the sources of the recent bombings.

Israeli intelligence reports described those arrested as doctors, pharmacists and other people known to be affiliated with Hamas but not members of its armed wing.

A four-page document distributed by the prime minister's office listed 10 security demands the government is making to the Palestinian authority, citing remarks by Albright urging strong anti-terrorist action.

The list included "full and unconditional security cooperation," "confiscation of illegal weapons," "dismissal of terrorist elements from police" and "dismantling of terror infrastructure."

Hamas, Islamic Holy War and other militant groups would have to be outlawed, and there would have to be "administrative, legal and police action against military, political, civilian, religious and economic infrastructure (welfare societies, mosques, educational institutions, health centers, banks, investment companies, etc.) which support terror," the document said.

Palestinian officials assert that Arafat is prepared to act against militants proved to have been involved in terrorist attacks but that he cannot declare war on an entire segment of the Palestinian population and Islamic institutions that provide them with social welfare and health services.

Marwan Kanafani, a spokesman for Arafat, called the Israeli demands "a pretext to spoil Albright's visit but also to torpedo the peace process."

Pub Date: 9/10/97

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