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Arrest of Hamas Leader Points to Shift in Israeli Army Focus

March 04, 2003|From Associated Press

JERUSALEM — Israeli troops arrested reclusive Hamas co-founder Mohammed Taha in a deadly raid Monday, signaling a change in Israeli strategy that until now had not targeted the militant group's leadership.

Backed by attack helicopters and tanks, troops blew up Taha's home in the Bureij refugee camp in the Gaza Strip. Eight people died in the raid, and Taha was wounded in an exchange of gunfire. Troops also detained at least three of Taha's sons, all Hamas activists.

The arrest of Taha, who is in his mid-60s, marked a departure for Israel, which has focused its efforts on rank-and-file militants and on the security forces of the Palestinian Authority since the intifada erupted in 2000.

Israel's new government promised major strikes on militant Islamic groups. Palestinians saw Monday's raid as part of an effort to deal Hamas a fatal blow before any U.S.-led war on Iraq; after a war, they feel, Israel might be pressured by the U.S. to compensate the Arab world with concessions toward the Palestinians.

"This escalation is clearly ahead of the likely war with Iraq," said Palestinian Information Minister Yasser Abed-Rabbo.

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