Israeli security forces arrest leader of the Hamas organization

Israeli security forces arrested a leader of the Hamas organization accused of planning terrorist attacks from the West Bank with the Islamic Jihad group. The man, identified as Munir Qassem, was a key figure in terrorist organizations in the Tulkarm area of the West Bank, according to an e-mailed Israeli government statement today. He was arrested yesterday, the statement said.

``Qassem was involved in the planning and execution of numerous shooting attacks and explosive device attacks at Israeli civilian and military targets,'' the government said, according to its statement. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon yesterday called on the Palestinian Authority to prevent rocket attacks on Israelis and disarm terrorist groups. Sharon said last week he refuses to meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas until he disarms groups such as Islamic Jihad and Hamas.

``We have no intention of causing suffering to the Palestinian population,'' Sharon said at yesterday's opening of parliament's winter session in Jerusalem. ``But the Palestinians must understand that only a determined fight against terrorism, including the dismantling of its organizations, will ensure the calm to which we all aspire.''

Hamas has continued to plan terrorist attacks during the recent period of calm in the region, the Israeli government said in its statement. Qassem, 27, had recently joined the Islamic Jihad infrastructure, it said.

There has been an escalation of violence in the region since Israeli soldiers killed the top gunman for Islamic Jihad on Oct. 24 and a suicide bombing carried out by Islamic Jihad two days later killed five Israelis in the town of Hadera.

Three Palestinian groups associated with Islamic Jihad, Fatah and National Resistance Committee said they carried out rocket attacks yesterday on Israel, targeting Sderot and Kibbutz Zakim, near the coastal city of Ashkalon. The rockets didn't cause any injuries. The attacks came after Israeli forces two days ago killed two Palestinians in the West Bank village of Qabatia near Jenin and Tulkarem. The Palestinian Authority has appealed for groups to stop firing rockets into Israeli towns, reports Bloomberg. I.L.

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