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Palestinian Police Arrest 115 Militants in Crackdown

November 13, 1994| From Associated Press

GAZA CITY — Palestinian police rounded up 115 activists, searched mosques and traded fire with gunmen Saturday in Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat's toughest campaign yet against Muslim militants.

The Palestinian Authority, headed by Arafat, also decided Saturday to forbid political rallies by opponents of the Israel-PLO accord and to put some Muslim leaders on its "wanted" list, a high-ranking Palestinian official said on condition of anonymity.

The crackdown, long demanded by Israel, came a day after a suicide bomber from the militant Islamic Jihad blew himself up at an Israeli army checkpoint. Three Israeli reserve officers were killed, and 11 people were wounded.

Israel exerted fresh pressure on Arafat to rein in the militants, reminding him that security in the autonomous areas of Gaza and the West Bank town of Jericho was key to expanding Palestinian self-rule to the rest of the West Bank.

"What happened yesterday cannot be accepted," the Palestinian leader told his Cabinet on Saturday.

Arafat has been reluctant to confront Islamic militants, fearing a civil war that might topple his fragile government. But he is also worried that continued attacks on Israelis will wreck peace negotiations.

The sweep began about 1 a.m. Saturday.

Police searched homes, hide-outs and several mosques, the senior PLO official said. The 115 people arrested were said to be mostly middle-ranking activists.

In the Sheik Radwan district of Gaza City, Islamic Jihad gunmen shot at police, who returned fire.

There were no reports of injuries, and the gunmen escaped.

Islamic Jihad's leaders were in hiding Saturday, the PLO official said.

"All Islamic Jihad leaders are considered on the 'wanted' list of the Palestinian Authority," he said.

The strongest indicator that Arafat means business this time was his decision to outlaw political rallies by Islamic Jihad and its larger sister organization, Hamas.

In the past, Arafat had allowed political activity, hoping that it would encourage the two groups to seek a share of the power instead of challenging his government.

But on Friday, Islamic Jihad staged a rally of 3,000 supporters that coincided with the bombing.

Meanwhile, Israeli leaders, acknowledging Arafat's difficult position, struck a conciliatory chord Saturday, suggesting that his security forces could not have prevented Friday's attack.

However, they demanded that he now do everything possible to find the ringleaders and win the upper hand over the militants.

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