- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 16, 2003

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Palestinian security services said last night they had locked up eight of the militants who planned and executed Wednesday’s attack on an American convoy that killed three U.S. security contractors.

But Israel dismissed the arrests as “an imaginary measure” designed to placate the United States, and said there was no evidence to link the arrested men to the attack.

Security sources meanwhile revealed to a leading Israeli newspaper that the United States regularly faxed and telephoned travel plans in advance to Palestinian Authority security officials.

Ha’aretz said these faxes or phone calls came from “American personnel who coordinate the movements of U.S. officials in the [Palestinian] territories.”

It added that the advance reports laid out the times when U.S. vehicles were to be move through various areas, and the routes to be taken by the cars. The reports also gave the names of those traveling.

The paper reported speculation by “some analysts” that those who carried out Wednesday’s explosion had advance knowledge of the U.S. convoy’s route.

PA security officials told The Washington Times they repeatedly warned Americans to be less conspicuous in their use of clearly marked cars.

The Americans killed on Wednesday had been escorting a convoy bringing U.S. officials to the Gaza Strip to offer university scholarships to Palestinian teenagers.

A senior officer at the Gaza City headquarters of the Palestinian Authority’s Preventive Security Organization also said the eight arrested men were being held in the building where an interview took place, but refused to let them be seen or to disclose their names. He said at least two more plotters were being pursued and should be locked up “within hours.”

The eight men, captured in a shootout that wounded seven policemen, had been volunteering very useful information, he said.

The men were from the Jabaliya refugee camp, a hotbed of violence for many years that stretches out alongside an unpaved section of road where the remotely denoted bomb was buried.

Palestinian sources said one man escaped during the shootout and that other militants burned tires and blockaded streets to obstruct the security forces.

The Associated Press reported that the men arrested were members of the Popular Resistance Committees, a group of dozens of armed men from various factions, many former members of the security forces and disgruntled followers of Yasser Arafat’s Fatah movement.

Israeli officials told AP that the group, formed after the outbreak of Israeli-Palestinian fighting three years ago, has ties to the Lebanese guerrilla group Hezbollah.

The Palestinian group has blown up three Israeli tanks with massive remote-controlled bombs in the past two years — the same technique used in Wednesday’s attack.

The Preventive Security officer told The Times he did not believe the attack was the work of any of the major militant organizations — including the Arafat-inspired Al Aqsa Brigades, Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

“We will present the entire plot from start to finish to the Americans,” he said.

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