Arafat's nightmare: Israel bombs the jailsBy Danny Rubinstein December 07, 2001
Yasser Arafat and his security services are afraid that Israel will bomb the prison facilities where arrested Hamas and Islamic Jihad suspects are being held. They have long been aware of the growing bitterness and alienation in the West Bank and Gaza toward the leadership, and if the prisoners are killed in an Israeli attack, Arafat and his men will be immediately blamed for it. The Palestinian street will also be suspicious of collusion among Arafat, the Israelis and Americans to eliminate the intifada activists now being held in Palestinian Authority jails.
Last night, there were reports that the PA security forces had halted their sweep as a result of the Israeli attacks. A Palestinian security source said that a group of Hamas prisoners in Nablus were transferred to a safe place, for fear that Israel would bomb the prison, just as it bombed the old Nablus prison in an attempt to kill Mahmoud Abu Hanoud.
While Prime Minister Ariel Sharon claims that the arrests are fake, Palestinian spokesman say that some 120 Hamas and Islamic Jihad activists are already under arrest. In some cases, there were violent clashes between Palestinian security forces and Muslim activists who resisted arrest. One incident took place in Bethlehem, and another in Gaza, when police tried to arrest one of the bodyguards of Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, the Hamas spiritual leader.
Most of those arrested are Islamic Jihad activists, whose names were published in the latest issue of the organization's journal, Al-Istiklal. These included activists from Ramallah, Jenin, Tul Karm, Nablus and Hebron.
Palestinian sources said last night that they were told that Israel had halted the bombing temporarily to allow Arafat to arrest wanted men, according to the lists he received in recent days. The issue of the arrests was at the top of the agenda for a meeting early yesterday morning in Ramallah between Arafat and two key U.S. officials - Jerusalem Consul-General Ronald Schlicher and veteran State Department peace envoy Aaron Miller, who is accompanying U.S. peace envoy Anthony Zinni and Assistant Secretary of State for Near East Affairs William Burns.
Palestinian sources said yesterday there were many years in which the Israeli security establishment held as many as 15,000 Palestinians in jails and other facilities, and that did not result in a complete end to the violence and attacks. In other words, there's a reason to make arrests - if they are accompanied by negotiations that create an opportunity for settlement of the conflict.