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Last Updated: Sunday, 13 July, 2003, 21:34 GMT 22:34 UK
Israel arrests Irish 'bomb expert'
Israeli security officers
Israeli security forces had been looking for a dissident Real IRA bomb maker
A suspected dissident Irish republican who Israeli police accuse of training Palestinian militants in the use of explosives has been arrested in the West Bank.

British and Irish newspapers earlier reported that a manhunt was underway for a dissident Real IRA bomb maker in the region.

Security sources told Reuters news agency the 40-year old man is currently being interrogated to discover the extent of the network he had developed among Palestinian militants.

Israel has been on alert for attacks by foreigners acting on behalf of a 33-month-old Palestinian uprising in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip since two British Muslims carried out a suicide bombing at a Tel Aviv nightclub in April, killing three people.

The Associated Press news agency says the man, who was not identified, was arrested on Saturday afternoon and was being questioned by the Sin Bet security agency.

Splinter group

The Observer reported on Sunday the man was believed to have entered Israel last month on a British passport and crossed over to a Palestinian area in the West Bank.

The newspaper said it knew the identity of the man, who comes from Northern Ireland's Irish nationalist heartland of South Armagh, but could not name him for legal reasons.

It said he was a former IRA member who had switched his allegiance to the so-called Real IRA, which split from the IRA in protest over its 1997 cease-fire.

The splinter group has since been blamed for a series of bombing attacks in Northern Ireland and Britain, including the August 1998 car bombing of Omagh that killed 29 and wounded more than 300.

Long history

Palestinian links with Northern Ireland stretch back to the early days of the three decade conflict between Catholic republicans fighting to end British rule and Protestant loyalists committed to maintaining it.

Within Israel's security services, it is believed a West Bank sniper who killed 10 Israeli soldiers and settlers in March 2002 may have been an IRA-linked mercenary.

In hardline Catholic districts of Belfast it is common to see pro-Palestinian slogans painted on walls, while in staunchly Protestant areas Israeli flags are sometimes flown alongside British flags and loyalist paramilitary banners.

However, there has been no hard evidence linking dissident republicans with Palestinian terrorists.

The BBC's Michael Voss reports from Jerusalem
"There are a lot of allegations and a lot of speculation"

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