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Gaza Police Pelted During Arrests : Mideast: Palestinians resist apprehension of three suspected of planning attack in Israel.

August 19, 1995|MARY CURTIUS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

JERUSALEM — Palestinian police in Gaza City on Friday apprehended three men suspected of planning a bomb attack inside Israel but only after the officers were pelted with stones by enraged Palestinians who tried to prevent the arrests.

It was an embarrassing illustration of the difficulties that Palestinian officials are experiencing as they try to keep the peace with the Israelis--and among their own people.

Gaza Police Chief Ghazi Jabali told reporters that the wanted men opened fire on police and security forces after authorities surrounded a house where they were staying in Sheik Radwan, a neighborhood with a reputation as a stronghold of Islamic activists.

"Eight or nine people were lightly wounded in the exchange of fire between the two sides, five [of them] from the security" force, Jabali said.

After a three-hour standoff, mediators from the Islamic group Hamas worked out an agreement with the police and the three emerged from the home, surrendered and were driven away by security officers. "The three are now in prison," Jabali said.

Police later confirmed that one of the men was Wael Nassar, whom Israeli security had described as a potential suicide bomber.

Palestinian security forces have been searching for more than a week for Nassar and three other militants from the Izzidin al-Qassam military wing of Hamas. Israel said its security forces had specific intelligence that these men were planning to carry out a bomb attack in Tel Aviv.

Footage shown Friday night on Israel Television showed police shooting into the air with automatic weapons after being hit with a hail of stones. Witnesses said they also fired tear-gas canisters.

Friday's incident was embarrassing for the Palestinian Authority, because its police met with stiff resistance from Palestinians who were trying to thwart an arrest that Israel has sought. The Israelis sealed off the Gaza Strip nine days ago and have said they will maintain a partial closure until the would-be bombers are found.

The confrontation occurred against a backdrop of heightened tension between the self-governing Palestinian Authority and the two Islamic groups--Hamas and Islamic Jihad--that have vowed to use violence to wreck Israeli-Palestinian peace accords.

Since Israel handed over most of Gaza to the Palestinian Authority in May, 1994, residents there have often complained that Palestinian security forces are doing the bidding of Israel by arresting Islamic militants opposed to the Israeli-Palestinian peace accords and by cracking down on dissenters.

The worst clash between the authority and Islamists occurred Nov. 18 in Gaza City, when police opened fire after worshipers emerged from a mosque, killing 12 and wounding dozens more. Police said they fired to disperse a violent demonstration, but Hamas said the incident was unprovoked.

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Relations since then have been strained by continuing attacks on Israelis by Islamists; the attacks have slowed peace negotiations and triggered long closures of Gaza's borders with Israel. Hamas and the Palestinian Authority have never been able to work out an agreement whereby the group will cease its attacks and the authority will stop arrests.

Yasser Abed-Rabbo, the Palestinian information and culture minister, came close Thursday to declaring that the Palestinian Authority is engaged in a cultural war with the Islamists.

Abed-Rabbo gave a news conference denouncing Islamic militants associated with Hamas for opposing cultural festivals the authority is hosting in the West Bank and Gaza. He said the authority was determined to stage the festivals.

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