- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 16, 2002

JERUSALEM Israel is hoping its seizure of Marwan Barghouti in Ramallah yesterday will neutralize for a time the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, the group that has lately outdone even Islamic militants in suicide bombings and other attacks on the Jewish state.
But some officials here believe it could also catalyze a fresh wave of violence, possibly the worst yet.
Mr. Barghouti, who has ridden the 18-month-old Palestinian uprising to prominence and now to jail, is the most high-ranking political figure Israel has nabbed since the start of its offensive in the West Bank late last month.
He is an elected member of the Palestinian Legislative Council and serves as general secretary of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's Fatah Tanzim faction in the West Bank.
But Israeli officials say he's also a terrorist who secretly heads al-Aqsa, a group associated with Fatah, and has been directing attacks on the Jewish state for at least the past 10 months among them a Jerusalem suicide bombing by a woman Friday that killed six persons. Mr. Barghouti denies the charges.
Since the start of the uprising in September 2000, Israel has had a policy of taking out militant leaders, either through assassination or arrest.
"Decapitation is certainly one way to gradually limit the ability of a group to be active," Israeli political scientist Ephraim Inbar said about Mr. Barghouti's arrest.
"Sometimes the leadership is not easy to replace. Barghouti was a leader, so to some extent it's a big blow," said Mr. Inbar, who heads the BESA Center for Strategic Studies.
Members of Israel's Shin Bet security service were interrogating the 42-year-old Mr. Barghouti last night at a Jerusalem jail along with Ahmed Barghouti, Marwan's cousin and aide.
In what Israeli television described as a complicated operation, Israeli soldiers grabbed the two in an apartment in Ramallah not far from Mr. Arafat's bombed out headquarters.
Palestinian Cabinet Secretary Ahmed Abdel Rahman warned Israel yesterday that harming Mr. Barghouti would bring about "grave consequences on Israeli society."
Troops have been looking for Mr. Barghouti since the start of the Israeli offensive March 29. Two days into the incursion, soldiers barged into the home of Mr. Barghouti's parents in the Kobar village near Ramallah and grilled them about their son's whereabouts.
One top Israeli said information Israel hopes to glean from the interrogation could help thwart suicide attacks already in motion.
Another Israeli official said apprehending Barghouti was probably a mistake.
"They should have killed him. The terrorists will now launch bigger and wider suicide bombings as a means of getting him back," said the official, who asked not to be named.
Mr. Barghouti, a member of a large Palestinian clan in Ramallah and vicinity, was first arrested by Israel in 1977 for membership in Mr. Arafat's Fatah movement. He spent the next 10 years in and out of Israeli jails.
With the Oslo peace accords, Mr. Barghouti, who speaks fluent Hebrew, became a pre-eminent example of the "new guard" of young Palestinians who were untouched by the corruption that has tainted many of Mr. Arafat's older associates.
In an interview just last month, Mr. Barghouti said Israeli measures against him or other Palestinians would not halt the uprising.
"Israel cannot break the intifada by force, with the use of tanks and planes. There's no military solution to our resistance, and nobody can stop this intifada without political achievements," he said.

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