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Israel captures top official of Hamas military operations

Badran, shown in early April
Badran, shown in early April  

JERUSALEM (CNN) -- Israeli forces arrested a man Thursday they said was a top official in the military wing of Hamas and responsible for a series of deadly terror attacks against Israeli civilians in recent years, including last month's Passover bombing in Netanya.

Both the Israel Defense Forces and Palestinian security forces said the captured man, identified as Hossam Atef Ali Badram, was the head of the military wing of Hamas, Izzedine al Qassam. He was captured uninjured during an air and ground chase in the West Bank in which three other Palestinians were killed by helicopter machine-gun fire, Israeli and Palestinian officials said.

Badram is "responsible for all the most difficult attacks carried out against Israel by the Hamas during the past few years," according to a written statement from the IDF. Those attacks, the IDF said, killed more than 100 people. (Full story)

Hamas, a Palestinian Islamic fundamentalist organization, has been labeled by the U.S. State Department as a terrorist organization.

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The escalating series of terrorist bombings targeting Israeli civilians in recent months is the reason given by Israeli officials for their decision to send in troops and tanks into Palestinian cities and towns in the West Bank cities.

Some of the fiercest fighting between Israelis and Palestinians since the start of the Israeli offensive took place in the Jenin refugee camp. The commander of Israeli troops in the Jenin area said his forces will complete their withdrawal Thursday night, pulling back to form a cordon around the Palestinian city and its refugee camp.

In Washington, President Bush, meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell about his trip to the region, praised the Israeli withdrawals but said they must continue.

Earlier in the day, the United Nations envoy to the Middle East said the Jenin refugee camp on the West Bank is "shocking and horrifying beyond belief," the air filled with the smell of decaying bodies.

"It looks as if an earthquake has hit the heart of the refugee camp here," said Terje Roed-Larsen, the U.N. envoy. "I've just been witnessing two brothers digging out of the rubble their father and five other family members. I witnessed a family digging out their about 12-year-old son from beneath the rubble. There's a stench of decaying corpses all over the place here, the scene is absolutely unbelievable."

Larsen said he had gone into the camp with representatives of the Palestine Red Crescent and the U.N. relief agency UNRWA.

"What we are seeing here is the large-scale suffering of the whole civilian population here. No military operation could justify the suffering we are seeing here," he said. "It's not only the corpses, children lacking food."

Hamas leader captured:
Israeli officials say Hossam Atef Ali Badram, a top Hamas official arrested Thursday, is responsible for a long series of terrorist attacks that killed more than 100 victims, including:

March 2002: Fourteen people are killed and 33 others injured in a bombing at a Haifa restaurant.

March 2002: A suicide bomber kills 28 people and injures 170 in a Passover attack at a Netanya hotel.

September 2001: A man blows himself up at the train station in Nahariya, killing three and wounding dozens more.

August 2001: Fifteen people are killed and dozens injured in a suicide bombing attack at a pizzeria in Jerusalem.

Larsen called on the Israelis to give fuller access to the camp to aid agencies distributing food and water to the residents.

There have been anecdotal accounts about the number of deaths in the camp, but no clear picture has emerged. Palestinians have charged that as many as 500 Palestinians have been killed in the Israeli incursions in the West Bank. Israeli Defense Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer said fighting at the camp was fierce but said the number of deaths was in the "dozens not hundreds."

Ben-Eliezer said Wednesday night that Israeli troops would pull out of Jenin and Nablus by Sunday but were continuing operations for now.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon ordered incursions into the West Bank to root out what he called the Palestinians' "terrorist infrastructure." The Palestinians call the campaign that began March 29 an Israeli reoccupation of the West Bank.

Bush on Thursday said Israel is adhering to a timetable for withdrawing its forces from the West Bank. He cited "progress" from Powell's recent mission to the Middle East, despite the fact that no cease-fire was secured.

Powell briefed the president on his mission during an Oval Office meeting. Asked whether Israel had heeded his calls to promptly leave the Palestinian territory, Bush responded, "History will show that they've responded." (Full story)

Powell arrived back in Washington early Thursday, a day after he made public comments on his meeting with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. In remarks to reporters, Powell indicated that what he had done was to put both sides on alert that a change must come. (Transcript of Powell's speech)

Other developments

  • The IDF Wednesday said it has detained more than 4,200 Palestinians -- including nearly 400 people on its wanted list -- since "Operation Defensive Shield" was launched about three weeks ago.
  • Israeli tanks and troops entered a Palestinian refugee camp in southern Gaza early Friday after its forces came under a grenade attack by Palestinians, the Israeli army said. One Palestinian was killed in the fighting. The Israeli army said it has no plans to remain in Gaza and that its forces were just acting after being fired upon while on a "routine" mission.
  • Gunfire and explosions were heard around the Church of the Nativity Thursday night in some of the most intense activity there in two weeks, a CNN crew reported from the city. A bright orange glow, apparently a fire, could be seen in an area behind the church, where about 200 Palestinians, about 30 of them people Israel accuses of terrorism, are holed up.
  • woman
    A Palestinian woman weeps atop the rubble of what was once her house in Jenin refugee camp.  

  • Bethlehem's mayor said Wednesday he would like Pope John Paul II to visit the church in an effort to end the three-week-old standoff. (Full story)
  • At the United Nations, the Palestinian representative to the U.N. is demanding a vote on a resolution that seeks an end to the Israeli encirclement of Arafat's Ramallah compound and of the Church of the Nativity. The resolution also seeks a U.N. investigation of what happened in Jenin. (Full story)
  • Arafat charged that Israel has not truly withdrawn from West Bank cities such as Tulkarem and Qalqilya. Arafat also said Israeli forces had come back to Tulkarem on Tuesday. He demanded the international community end his isolation in Ramallah. Israel believes the killers of Israeli Tourism Minister Rechavam Ze'evi, assassinated in October, are holed up in the Ramallah compound. Israel also wants Arafat to hand over Fouad Shobaki, a top Palestinian official the Israelis believe is responsible for the attempted smuggling of weapons on the ship Karine-A earlier this year.


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