Arrests rev up tensions between Israeli Arabs, Jews

JERUSALEM — In addition to the fight against terrorism in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Israeli authorities also are focusing anti-terrorism efforts inward.

A 53-year-old Israeli was killed Sunday when his car came under fire near the West Bank settlement of Ofra.

A second car sustained damage, but none of its passengers was injured.

Terrorists from the Fatah movement, which Yasser Arafat and Mahmoud Abbas lead, and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine claimed responsibility.

In the Gaza Strip on Saturday night, Israeli troops shot and killed a Palestinian whom they suspected of trying to infiltrate Israel when he was spotted near the security fence in a prohibited zone.

Also Saturday, two Israeli women were lightly hurt in a Palestinian rocket attack on the Gaza Strip settlement of Neveh Dekalim. The day earlier, an Israeli mother and daughter were lightly hurt when Palestinians fired Kassam rockets at the Negev town of Sderot.

Inside Israel on Tuesday, police arrested senior members of the radical Islamic Movement for allegedly aiding Hamas.

Fifteen members, including Sheik Ra'ad Salah, head of the movement's northern branch, were arrested in an initial sweep. Most of them, including Salah, were detained Monday night in a raid on the northern Israeli Arab city of Umm al-Fahm.

Police and Shin Bet security agents also raided the offices of an Islamic organization in the city, confiscating documents and equipment, the daily Ha'aretz reported.

The 15 are suspected of channeling millions of dollars from abroad to Hamas and other terrorist groups. Israeli security officials allege the money was transferred in the guise of charity and humanitarian aid, but actually went toward the groups' terrorist infrastructure and the families of suicide bombers and security prisoners.

Israel's public security minister, Tzachi Hanegbi, said the money was used to oil "the wheels of murderous terrorism."

The sweep reflected growing concerns in the Israeli security establishment about the Islamic Movement's involvement in terrorist activity, particularly among movement members in northern Israel.

In addition to the allegations concerning money, Israeli security officials have been concerned about direct contacts between movement members and organizations such as Hezbollah. Salah previously was barred from traveling abroad because of concerns over such contacts.

In addition, since the outbreak of the Palestinian intifada in September 2000, there has been a rise in the number of Israeli Arabs arrested in connection with terrorist attacks, including members of the Islamic Movement.

The Islamic Movement condemned the arrests and denied any connection between the group and organizations in the territories.

"There is no connection of any kind between the Islamic Movement, either the northern or the southern branches, and any organization of any kind in the territories," spokesman Tawfik Mahmeed was quoted as saying.

Hamas called the arrests "a new escalation against Muslims and Arabs in occupied Palestine," as it refers to Israel.

The Islamic Movement called on Israeli Arabs to stage protest marches and rallies this weekend.

Some 150 members of the movement's northern branch protested Tuesday outside the magistrates court in Tel Aviv, where the 15 movement members were brought for a remand hearing. The protesters waved Islamic Movement flags reading "Today Sheik Ra'ad, tomorrow all Arabs" and "Israeli democracy is a red line for all Arabs," Ha'aretz reported.

Israeli President Moshe Katsav urged Israeli Arabs not to be swept up by anti-Israel incitement.

"If the detainees are found guilty, the Arab public should be pleased that negative elements who harmed coexistence and security of the state are being brought to justice,'' he said.