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U.S. lists Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades as terror group

The Al Aqsa Brigades have killed 38 Israelis in six attacks during March.  

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The United States has designated the military wing of Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement as a foreign terrorist organization, a senior Bush administration official told CNN.

Secretary of State Colin Powell officially informed Congress Wednesday of the new designation of the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades. The group emerged during the Al Aqsa intifada, which began in September 2000.

The Al Aqsa Brigades has carried out numerous terror attacks against Israeli military and civilian targets in Israel and in Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Gaza. The group has stated its belief that armed struggle is the only way to bring about an independent Palestinian state.

The Al Aqsa Brigades have killed 38 Israelis in six attacks during March.

Palestinian sources said a suicide bomber who set off a massive explosion in downtown Jerusalem that killed two on Thursday was a member of the group. Western news organizations received calls from people purporting to be from Al Aqsa, claiming responsibility for the bombing.

Designating the group as a terrorist organization allows the United States to block its finances and also prevent banks from doing business with it. The move also allows the United States to "go to the (Palestinian Authority) and say, 'You have to arrest these guys,'" one U.S. official said.

Senior officials said it also makes a point to Arafat: By publicly designating Al Aqsa a terrorist group, the administration is giving tacit approval for an Israeli military response if Arafat does not move quickly to dismantle the group and arrest those responsible for the Jerusalem bombing.

The administration's decision is one of several U.S. options under consideration that are aimed at quelling nearly 18 months of bitter violence in the Mideast.




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