Israel casting wider net around Hamas, Iran terrorists

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JERUSALEM — As Israel enters the final stretch of an election campaign dominated by the security issue, Israeli security officials and terror experts have thrown a sharp spotlight on the terrorist activities of Hamas and Iran.

Over the weekend, security officials said they had thwarted a Hamas terror attack after they captured the No. 2 man in the Hamas military wing.

The announcement came after Israeli soldiers shot and wounded Hassan Salameh during a pursuit Friday of last week in the West Bank town of Hebron. A second suspected terrorist traveling with Salameh also was arrested.

The second man, identified as Rizzek Rajoub, was said to be a relative of Jibril Rajoub, who is in charge of all Palestinian security forces in the West Bank.

The Israeli soldiers found firearms, grenades and ammunition in the car, prompting security sources to suggest that the two could have been on their way to carry out a terror attack.

The Israel Defense Force said Salameh had masterminded the Feb. 25 Hamas suicide bombings in Jerusalem and Ashkelon, as well as the March 3 bombing in Jerusalem. The three attacks claimed the lives of 46 victims and wounded scores more.

According to the army, soldiers from the Golani Brigade stopped Salameh in his car at a Hebron roadblock.

He got out and fled as they approached the car. When he ignored their calls to stop, the soldiers opened fire, hitting him in the back. He fled.

Salameh was later tracked to a Hebron hospital, where local Palestinians had taken him. From there he was transferred to Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem.

Israeli security officials subsequently arrested 19 other Palestinians on suspicion of belonging to Hamas or the radical Islamic Jihad.

Prime Minister Shimon Peres called his capture a "first-rate achievement." Some commentators noted that the arrest could give Peres a boost in his effort to win the May 29 race for prime minister.

Likud officials said Salameh's arrest underscored the failure of Peres' peace policies. Had Israeli troops already redeployed from Hebron, they argued, Salameh would still be at large.

After Salameh's arrest, Hamas officials issued a statement vowing to avenge his capture with terrorist attacks. The statement also rejected the remarks last week of a Hamas leader in the Gaza Strip calling on the military arm of Hamas to refrain from terrorist attacks before Israel's elections.

Hamas political leader Mohammed Zahar told a rally of 3,000 supporters in Gaza City that those attacks were being ordered from abroad. He called for a suspension of the attacks "so we don't present a false image to the world that Hamas is serving any Arab government or radical administration."

His remarks came after leaflets were distributed Friday of last week indicating that the Hamas armed wing was ready to suspend its attacks if all Hamas prisoners were released from Palestinian jails.

The contradictory statements made by Hamas officials over the weekend led to some speculation that there were rifts within the fundamentalist organization.

Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher charged Iran with aiding Hamas and supplying the Lebanon-based radical Islamic group Hezbollah with $100 million a year.

His comments came after a would-be bomber identified as a Hezbollah member sent by Iran blew himself up in Jerusalem.