Fri, Oct 17, 2003 - Page 6 News List

Suspects arrested in Gaza strike

DEADLY CONNECTIONS Those captured are among a group of armed men with ties to the Palestinian security forces and President Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement

AP , JEBALIYA REFUGEE CAMP, GAZA

An American security investigator inspects a demolished car after a roadside bomb attack in the northern Gaza Strip on Wednesday. Three security guards were killed in the strike against a convoy of US diplomatic vehicles.

PHOTO: EPA

Palestinian police arrested three members of a militant group in the Jebaliya shantytown yesterday in connection with a deadly attack on a US diplomatic convoy on Wednesday, security officials said.

Witnesses said militants and police exchanged fire for about 10 minutes during the raid. A member of the Palestinian security forces was killed and 14 people were wounded in sporadic exchanges of fire, hospital officials said. Two minors were among those hurt.

Those arrested are members of the Popular Resistance Committees, a group of dozens of armed men, many of them former members of the Palestinian security forces and disgruntled followers of Palestinian President Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement, said the officials, who initially gave the number of people detained as five.

No Palestinian group has claimed responsibility for Wednesday's bombing which killed three American security guards and wounded a fourth. It was the first deadly attack against US official targets in the Palestinian areas and was likely to increase US pressure on the Palestinian leadership to move against militants.

US President George W. Bush held the Palestinian Authority partially responsible, saying Wednesday that "Palestinian authorities should have acted long ago to fight terror in all its forms."

Involvement by the Popular Resistance Committees could prove particularly embarrassing to Arafat because of the group's links to the security forces.

Palestinians often accuse the US of siding with Israel, but officials are careful not to cross the line of open hostility to Washington, combining their criticism with appeals for US aid and protection.

Arafat and Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia have both condemned the bombing and promised swift action.

The three Americans killed were identified as John Branchizio, 36; Mark Parson, 31; and John Martin Linde Jr., 30. They had been hired through a contract with DynCorp, a Virginia-based security firm.

The diplomats in the convoy, escorted by Palestinian police, were heading to Gaza to interview Palestinian academics who were seeking Fulbright scholarships to teach or study in the US.

In the Jebaliya camp, Palestinian police were greeted by gunfire when they arrived around midnight to make arrests.

Security forces searched seven homes before making the arrests. One of those arrested was identified as Ahmed Saker, 25.

Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, violent groups behind scores of deadly bombings against Israelis, distanced themselves from the attack.

The Popular Resistance Committees were formed at the end of 2000, three months after the outbreak of Israeli-Palestinian fighting. They consist of dozens of armed men, mostly Fatah breakaways or former members of security forces. Other factions are also represented.

The group does not have a political ideology, but believes the use of force is the only way to end Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. In the past three years of fighting, the group has blown up three Israeli Merkava tanks with powerful remote-controlled bombs -- the same method used in Wednesday's attack.

US and Israeli officials said the attack underscored the need to dismantle Palestinian militant groups -- a requirement of the stalled, US-backed "road map" peace plan that Palestinian leaders have refused to carry out.

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