Israel's hunt for militants proves effective after number of arrests

In a sweep through West Bank towns, Israeli forces arrested six Palestinians, including a 14-year-old boy allegedly coerced by militants into becoming a suicide bomber and a senior Hamas fugitive who has been on the run for eight years, the army said Wednesday.

In another arrest in the Hebron-area town of Dahariya, troops brought a fugitive's mother to call on him to surrender. When he came out of his hideout, he was forced to strip to show he hadn't strapped explosives to his body.

The Israeli army said Wednesday it had arrested a 14-year-old Palestinian boy who told his interrogators that militants from the Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, a militant group with ties to Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah movement, pressured him to carry out a suicide bombing after he quarreled with his father.

The teenager said the militants threatened to kill him and distribute a statement claiming he was a collaborator with Israel if he didn't carry out their orders, the army said.

Jamal Tirawi, an Al Aqsa commander who allegedly recruited the boy, disputed the Israeli account.

Tirawi said the boy, whom he identified as Salah al Jitan, is 17 and came to his group volunteering to carry out an attack. Al Aqsa refused the request because the boy is the only son in his family, Tirawi said. "The Israelis are liars," he said.

At 14, the boy would have been one of the youngest suicide bombers during five years of conflict. Militant groups have increasingly turned to youths to carry out attacks in recent years because teenagers are likely to raise less suspicion with the army.

In the West Bank village of Tsurif, Israeli undercover forces, some disguised as vegetable vendors, on Tuesday arrested Ibrahim Ighnimat, a Hamas militant accused of being involved in suicide bombings and shooting attacks dating back to 1995.

The army has been hunting for Ighnimat, 47, since 1997. The army and the Shin Bet have spent years collecting information about Ighnimat, considered to be the spiritual leader and last link in the Hamas group's Tsurif cell, said Lt. Col. David Kimchi, commander of the operation. For several days before the arrest, troops followed Ighnimat and learned his daily routine, he said.

The "vegetable vendors" were used to get forces into the town, considered to be one of the more hostile in the Hebron area, Kimchi said. Once they had Ighnimat in their sights, the forces informed the other troops about some changes that had to be made in their game-plan.

When the troops arrived at the house, Ighnimat was sitting in the yard, and tried to flee but was arrested almost immediately, Kimchi said, adding that the fugitive had repeatedly evaded arrest in the past.

Ighnimat is linked to a suicide bombing in 1997 in which three Israelis were killed, four shooting attacks and the kidnapping and killing of an Israeli soldier, the army said.


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