- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 29, 2002

RAMALLAH, West Bank Israel has captured 175 Palestinians suspected of plotting suicide bomb attacks, officials confirmed yesterday, saying the figure shows that Palestinian militants are relentless in trying to attack Israelis.

Since September 2000, 83 Palestinians have blown themselves up, killing 296 Israelis on buses, in malls, at gas stations and in cafes.

The Palestinians say harsh Israeli military strikes and strict travel bans in the West Bank and Gaza Strip provoke further bombings and shootings.

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat has denounced attacks on civilians, and was to repeat such a condemnation today, in a speech to the Palestinian parliament.

"Such attacks do not help our national interest in having our independent state, nor the Israeli interest of having security and peace," said a draft of the Arafat speech obtained by the Associated Press.

The parliament was to have met yesterday, but Mr. Arafat postponed the session for a day after Israel refused to issue travel permits to 13 of 87 legislators for security reasons.

Parliament was to vote on Mr. Arafat's new Cabinet, after reform-minded lawmakers last month forced the old Cabinet to resign.

The session will be held in a refurbished annex of Mr. Arafat's office in the West Bank town of Ramallah. Nearly all buildings in the headquarters compound were destroyed in a 10-day Israeli siege last month.

Arafat adviser Nabil Abu Rdeneh accused Israel yesterday of trying to "sabotage the efforts to continue the reform process and the preparations for elections." Legislative and presidential elections are planned for January.

Israel and the United States have demanded that the Palestinian Authority make major political and economic reforms.

Israeli officials, meanwhile, gave conflicting explanations regarding the 175 would-be suicide bombers in custody.

Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer told the Ma'ariv daily that "up to now, we have in our hands 175 male and female suicide terrorists," suggesting this is the total number taken into custody since the outbreak of fighting.

However, Defense Ministry officials said 175 have been taken into custody since a military offensive in March. An Israeli government official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the count started at the beginning of 2002.

Security officials said most of the bombers were captured in the West Bank and Gaza Strip in Israeli raids based on intelligence information. A smaller number were intercepted while en route to Israel.

Raanan Gissin, an aide to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, said Israel has remained on high security alert "because the motivation for attacks by Palestinians has intensified both individually and collectively."

In all, nearly 1,900 people have been killed on the Palestinian side and more than 620 on the Israeli side in the past two years of fighting.

Also yesterday, in the West Bank town of Jenin, Israeli troops demolished four houses that belonged to Palestinians involved, or suspected of involvement in violence against Israel, the army and witnesses said.

The army said two of the houses belonged to the families of two suicide bombers who carried a bombing last week that killed 14 Israelis.

Palestinian witnesses confirmed the house demolitions, saying that one of the structures was a three-story building. At least 50 Palestinians were left homeless by the destruction, local residents said.

In other violence yesterday, a 16-year-old Palestinian was fatally shot in the chest when Israeli soldiers began firing at stone throwers in the West Bank town of Tulkarem, Palestinians said. The army did not immediately comment.

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