- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 16, 2002

RAMALLAH, West Bank Palestinian police yesterday detained the leader of a faction that claimed responsibility for the assassination of an Israeli Cabinet minister a move that appeared to be aimed at defusing spiraling tensions.
The move came just hours after gunmen fatally shot two Israelis in the West Bank: a 72-year-old Israeli-American man shopping for building supplies and a 45-year-old woman driving to a wedding.
Officials from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) confirmed that Ahmed Saadat had been detained. The front had claimed responsibility for killing Tourism Minister Rehavan Zeevi on Oct. 17.
Israel has said it would not lift its travel restrictions on Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat until those responsible for the minister's death were in detention. Mr. Arafat has been restricted to Ramallah for more than a month.
The detention appeared to be an attempt by the Palestinian Authority to salvage the cease-fire that has become extremely tenuous and stop tensions from spiraling out of control.
Mr. Saadat's deputy, Abdel Rahim Mallouh, said Mr. Saadat was detained during a meeting with an official of the Palestinian Authority.
"This is a political action, which has very dangerous political consequences," Mr. Mallouh said. "We consider this a response that they have accepted all American pressure and Israeli demands."
[There was no immediate word from the Palestinian Authority on the arrest, and a spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon voiced skepticism.
["Until I see him behind bars, I won't believe it," the spokesman, Raanan Gissin, told Reuters. "We've been disappointed so many times and fed up with so many announcements that they've arrested someone."
[Mr. Sharon called the arrest part of Mr. Arafat's "empire of lies," meant to please visiting U.S. congressmen, public radio reported.
["This is obviously another fake arrest, another virtual arrest. We've seen this many times before, and this time it was intended to impress the visiting U.S. congressmen," Israeli diplomatic sources told Agence France-Presse earlier.]
In yesterday's killing, engineer Avi Boaz drove to the Palestinian town of Beit Jalla, looking for materials for a house he was building in a Jewish settlement in the West Bank.
Gunmen riddled his car with 13 bullets, hitting Mr. Boaz in the head, Mr. Gissin said. Palestinian police were present when the shooting took place but did not attempt to stop it, according to Mr. Gissin.
Mr. Boaz's corpse was thrown onto a soccer field before Palestinian authorities later returned it to Israel, according to the Israelis. "It was a clear and plain, indiscriminate, bloody murder," Mr. Gissin said.
Palestinian authorities confirmed the killing and said they were searching for suspects. Israeli-born Mr. Boaz also had U.S. citizenship and traveled between the two countries, Israeli officials said.
A leaflet from the Al Aqsa Brigades, a militia linked to Mr. Arafat's Fatah movement, claimed responsibility for the killing. The leader of the Al Aqsa Brigades in the West Bank town of Tulkarem was killed Monday in a bombing that Palestinians blame on Israel.
But Palestinian security sources in Bethlehem said they doubted whether the leaflets were genuine.
A few hours after that shooting, gunmen opened fire on a car carrying Israeli settler Yoela Chen at a gas station near her settlement of Givat Zeev just north of Jerusalem, Israeli police spokesman Gil Kleiman said.
Ms. Chen, who was on her way to a wedding, was killed. Her aunt was wounded and rushed to a hospital, Mr. Kleiman said.
After several weeks of relative calm, a recent spate of killings and the Israeli seizure of a ship loaded with weapons it says were destined for the Palestinians have again escalated tensions.
The return of U.S. envoy Anthony Zinni, originally planned for this week, appeared to be on hold, according to U.S. and Israeli officials. Israeli-Palestinian security meetings, one of the few remaining links between the two sides, have been postponed since Gen. Zinni left more than a week ago, the Palestinians said.
In the West Bank town of Tulkarem, angry Palestinian gunmen fired into the air and spoke of revenge at the noisy West Bank funeral of militia leader Raed Karmi. The 27-year-old Brigades leader was killed Monday in a bomb blast the Palestinians blamed on Israel. Some 5,000 Palestinian mourners marched through the streets of Tulkarem.

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