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Thursday, 6 December, 2001, 08:53 GMT
Hamas stands its ground
Hamas supporters gather outside Sheikh Yassin's home
Hundreds of supporters of the Palestinian militant group Hamas have been protecting the house of their leader since successfully defeating an attempt by Palestinian security forces to arrest him.

Calm returned on Thursday morning as security forces returned to the area of Sheikh Ahmed Yassin's house in Gaza City.

Sheikh Ahmed Yassin
The Hamas leader has been under Palestinian house arrest in the past
The BBC's Kylie Morris says Sheikh Yassin has effectively placed himself under house arrest.

But the Israeli Government says this is insufficient and that Mr Arafat needs to arrest those who are actively involved in planning attacks against Israel.

Late on Wednesday evening, Hamas gunmen and security forces exchanged fire outside the house before the security forces withdrew late on Wednesday evening.

Hamas has said it carried out the suicide bomb attacks on Israelis at the weekend which killed 25 people.

We are all angry at the corrupt Palestinian leadership

Hamas supporter
The arrest attempt came as Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat asked for more time from Israel, which has suspended its retaliatory air strikes, to clamp down on militants.

Supporters poured into the streets of Gaza when an alert was raised on loudspeakers at a nearby mosque.

They came to the home of Hamas's 62-year-old spiritual leader, who is paralysed and virtually blind, by car and on foot from across the city.

"We are all angry at the corrupt Palestinian leadership," one Hamas supporter said, and accused the Palestinian police of trying to provoke a "civil war".

A Palestinian official said that the arrest order had been issued because of the Hamas figure's recent "statements against the Palestinian Authority".

Palestinian security forces succeeded in arresting a number of other Hamas activists but our correspondent says the demonstrations confirm the fears of the Palestinian Authority that carrying out arrests under pressure from Israel will put it on a collision course with its own people.

Plea for time

Mr Arafat says a total of 151 suspected militants had been picked up in recent days.

The Palestinian leader has called on Israel to give him some breathing space to crack down on the militants and Israel suspended its heavy bombardment of the territories which began after the weekend suicide attacks.

"They have to cool down to give me the chance," Mr Arafat told ABC television.

They have to cool down to give me the chance

Yasser Arafat

But with another suicide bomber striking in Jerusalem on Wednesday morning, killing himself and lightly injuring three Israelis, some Israeli officials have poured scorn on Mr Arafat's declared efforts.

"Real arrests have yet to be made," Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said.

Hamas members
Militants say the violence will continue
Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, who spoke to Mr Arafat on the telephone, said he supported a pause in the Israeli air strikes but Mr Arafat had to prove he was serious.

"He can restore credibility by making the necessary arrests of people who are really producing terror," he said.

Mr Peres gave the Palestinian leader a list of 36 suspected militant leaders whom he said should be arrested and said there should be a 12-hour "quiet period".

Our correspondent says the latest incident will reinforce Israeli scepticism about Mr Arafat's seriousness in rounding up militants.

US peace envoy Anthony Zinni is due to meet both Mr Peres and Mr Arafat on Thursday.

Hamas targeted

The radical Palestinian group Islamic Jihad said it carried out Wednesday's bomb attack outside a hotel in central Jerusalem.

It took place in a busy commercial area, but most office workers were still on their way to work when the explosion occurred.

Islamic Jihad said the bomber had tried to cause "numerous victims among the Zionists".

Mr Arafat has urged all groups to stand by the ceasefire to which the Palestinians officially remain committed, despite the ongoing violence.

US President George W Bush has labelled Hamas one of the deadliest terror organisations in the world today, and called on Mr Arafat to "root out those who killed".

The BBC's James Reynolds
"It's difficult time for peace makers"
Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Michael Melchior
"We have an obligation to defend our citizens"
Palestinian security chief Jabril Rajoub
"I am worried"
See also:

04 Dec 01 | Middle East
Arafat's Hamas problem
06 Dec 01 | Middle East
Now what for Arafat?
05 Dec 01 | Middle East
Israel castigated for 'rights abuses'
05 Dec 01 | Middle East
Mid-East splits Europe and US
04 Dec 01 | Americas
US targets Hamas finances
04 Dec 01 | Middle East
Outrage at Israeli strikes
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