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Friday, 19 July, 2002, 12:58 GMT 13:58 UK
Israel 'to expel' militants' relatives
Victim of Tel Aviv double suicide bombing
This week's attacks followed a month of relative calm
The Israeli army has arrested 21 close male relatives of two leading Palestinian militants and plans to expel them from the West Bank to the Gaza Strip.

The authorities say the two militants organised separate attacks this week which killed 12 Israelis - despite the army's tight grip on the West Bank.

Family members of Palestinian terrorists are also innocent civilians

Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI)

Palestinians have condemned the move, with the militant Islamic group Hamas warning that it would launch a new wave of suicide attacks.

The move came as Israeli newspapers voiced outrage that at least four Jewish settlers, some of them soldiers, had been arrested on suspicion of selling arms to Palestinian militants.

New tactic

The army said it destroyed the homes of the two militants near Nablus. The men, named as Nasser al-Din Assidi of Hamas and Ali Ahmad al-Ajouri of Fatah, are in hiding.

Bus attacked near Emmanuel Jewish settlement, West Bank
West Bank gunmen first bombed a bus then opened fire
The detainees include the fathers and brothers of men who organised a double suicide attack in Tel Aviv on Wednesday and an ambush on a bus near the Israeli settlement of Emmanuel on Tuesday, the army said.

They were taken from their homes and put into an Israeli military prison.

The Israeli cabinet must now decide if it wants to go ahead and order the expulsions.

However it is not clear if the deportation will go ahead. The Israeli attorney general has blocked the idea in the past on legal grounds.

Human rights concerns

It is the first time Israel has arrested Palestinian militants' relatives since the current Palestinian uprising began.

Israel says it wants to try to break up the framework around Palestinian militant groups and suicide bombers.

Officials say they have arrested only those who expressed support for attacks against Israel.

The Israeli Foreign Minister, Shimon Peres, said he would support the planned deportation of militants' relatives "if legally possible".

Hamas supporter
Hamas has vowed to launch more suicide attacks
Ahmed Abdel Rahman, an aide to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, said "the punishment of relatives of resistance figures is racist" and reflected "Israeli security and political bankruptcy".

Human rights activists have previously condemned Israel's plans to expel the families of suicide bombers.

When the plans were revealed last month the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) said that "by acting against these families we would become like the terrorist organisations whose values we fight".

The statement, sent to Israeli Attorney General Elyakim Rubinstein, said "any attempt to injure innocent family members would blur the boundaries of a democratic state".

Arms sales

In a bizarre twist, at least four Jewish settlers in the West Bank, several of them Israeli soldiers, were arrested on Thursday on charges of selling ammunition to Palestinian militants.

Ammunition theft from Israeli army bases has more than doubled in the last year.

Two of the soldiers are also suspected of getting Palestinian lorries through checkpoints into Israel by taking the wheel in their military uniforms, Israeli newspapers reported.

The BBC's Claire Marshall
"The legal foundation for this move is very unclear"
The BBC's Jon Leyne
"The Arab ministers emerged from the White House in a remarkably positive mood"

Key stories




See also:

19 Jul 02 | Middle East
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