Israeli forces capture Hamas commander

Tuesday, May 23, 2006 Israeli troops have captured Ibrahim Hamad, the leader of the military wing of the Islamic Group Hamas in the West Bank town of Ramallah. Israel accuses the 41-year-old Hamad (who has headed the Izzedine al- Qasam brigades in the West Bank since 2003) of masterminding a string of suicide bombings including attacks on cafes and universities in Jerusalem. Hamas, which has launched some of the biggest attacks against Israel, declared an informal truce 15 months ago. Since then, Hamas also won the palestinian parliamentary elections in January of this year.

The raid (which was executed early this morning) involved Israeli troops, jeeps and a bulldozer. Eye-witnesses say the soldiers surrounded a row of shops in which Hamad was hiding and threatened to demolish the building if he did not come out. The bulldozer then proceeded to ram the iron doors of the shops, after which Hamad emerged and surrendered. The Israeli troops then ordered him to strip to make sure he was unarmed. After this, he was arrested and taken away in his underwear.

Hamad had been wanted by Israel since 1998, he was arrested by the Palestinian Authority but was released in 2002 during a major Israeli offensive in the West Bank. The BBC's correspondent in Jerusalem, Caroline Hawley says it is not clear why Israel moved against Hamad since Hamas has not carried out any attacks for over a year. Israeli operations in the past few months have been concentrated against the more active group Palestinian Islamic Jihad.