Hamas wing claims responsibility for grenade attack Palestinian in custody has admitted two other assaults, Israelis say

October 21, 1998|By Ann LoLordo | Ann LoLordo,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

JERUSALEM -- An Islamic militant group claimed responsibility yesterday for the grenade attack Monday that wounded dozens of Israelis, and the Israeli military said the man they are holding as a suspect has admitted two other terrorist attacks.

"One of our heroic fighters carried out a heroic operation on Monday morning in the town of Beersheba which targeted a crowd of enemy soldiers," claimed a statement released by Izzedine al-Qassam, Hamas' military wing.

The Israeli army and Palestinian security authorities also identified the Palestinian arrested at the scene as a member of the terrorist wing of Hamas. According to the Israelis, the suspect, Salem al-Sarsour, also said he killed a 63-year-old rabbi on Aug. 20 and carried out a grenade attack Sept. 30 in a square in Hebron in which 14 Israeli policemen and eight Palestinians were injured.

While the Israelis questioned al-Sarsour, Palestinian security forces picked up 20 suspected Islamic militants around the West Bank town of Hebron where he lived, Reuters reported.

The grenade attack Monday in the southern Israeli city of Beersheba injured 66 people, including 24 Israeli soldiers. At a Middle East summit in Maryland, where U.S. officials are pressing Israelis and Palestinians to make peace, the attack resulted in an angry call by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for the Palestinian authority to crack down on terrorism.

The grenade attack differed substantially from the bus bombings and suicide missions carried out by Hamas since the 1993 signing of peace accords in Oslo, Norway, between Israel and the Palestinians.

The group has killed scores of people, mostly Israelis, in its campaign to scuttle the land-for-peace deal.

The Israeli daily Yediot Ahronot said yesterday that efforts by Israeli and Palestinian security forces have impeded Hamas operations. By carrying out smaller-scale attacks, Hamas could continue terrorist activities and disrupt negotiations.

"It's definitely a new phenomenon, because former attacks have been implemented by members of the organization who participated in the religious activities, and through these people, local commanders recruited suicide attackers," said Menachem Klein, an Israeli political scientist. "It probably has to do with lack of operational manpower. This opens a new channel for individual initiatives."

According to the Israeli army statement yesterday, al-Sarsour is responsible for three terrorist attacks since August. Initially, he acted on his own, the statement said.

Al-Sarsour, a 29-year-old construction worker and father of five, lived in an area of Hebron that is under Palestinian control. During the Palestinian uprising known as the intifada, he was arrested and jailed for several months in 1989 for participating in disturbances. He was detained by Israeli security forces in September 1996 after being identified as a Hamas activist and jailed until May 1997, the army said.

On Aug. 20, al-Sarsour planned to hurl grenades at Israeli soldiers patrolling Hebron, the army statement said. When he couldn't find soldiers at a particular spot, he changed plans.

Al-Sarsour approached the Jewish settlement of Tel Rumeida in Hebron and climbed the fence. Through the window of a mobile home used to house settlers, he saw an elderly man sleeping. Sarsour climbed through the window and stabbed the man, identified as Rabbi Shlomo Raanan, the statement said.

The suspect hurled two fire bombs at the mobile home and fled to the Palestinian-controlled area of Hebron. Al-Sarsour reported his activities to a senior Hamas activist in Hebron, the Israeli army statement said.

"The latter recruited him to the military [wing] of Hamas, saw to it that he was trained with throwing grenades, equipped him with four or five grenades and one shock grenade and instructed him to attack military and civilian targets," the statement said.

Al-Sarsour's next attack occurred Sept. 30, when he hurled two grenades into a main square in Hebron, injuring 22. He set out for Jerusalem last week to attack again, but did not find a suitable target, the army said.

On Monday, he went to Beersheba and attacked the bus station, the army said.

Pub Date: 10/21/98

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