Israel arrests Hamas leaders linked to latest bombing

JERUSALEM — Israel's domestic intelligence service has arrested two senior Hamas operatives suspected of planning two recent suicide bombings in Israel.

The two suspects, arrested by Shin Bet agents who infiltrated a Hamas cell in the West Bank, were suspected of recruiting the suicide bombers who carried out Monday's attack aboard a bus in Jerusalem and the July 24 suicide bus bombing in Ramat Gan.

The two were identified as Nasser Issa and Hatam Ismail, both from the Gaza Strip.

In addition to making the arrests, the Shin Bet also identified the suicide bombers in the two most recent attacks as Palestinians from the West Bank.

The arrests came as Israeli and Palestinian negotiators continued their talks in Eilat in an effort to complete the interim agreement that would extend Palestinian self-rule in the West Bank.

The man who carried out Monday's bombing was identified as Sufiyan Salam Rabbo Sabiah, 26, from the Hebron area. Five people, including the bomber, were killed in the attack, which also left more than 100 wounded.

The three identified victims of Monday's attack were Rivka Cohen, 26, a student volunteer at Hadassah Hospital; Noam Eisenman, 35, a police officer; and Joan Davenny, 47, an American teacher at a Woodbridge, Conn. Jewish day school who was spending the year in Israel.

Davenny, formerly of San Francisco, was buried in Jerusalem on Wednesday at a funeral attended by some 200 relatives and friends.

Among those at the funeral was U.S. Ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk.

The two other bodies recovered from Monday's blast remained unidentified Wednesday.

Forensic experts were investigating the possibility that one of the bodies, a woman estimated to be in her late 30s, was a German tourist. The other body was believed to be that of the bomber.

The suicide bomber who carried out the Ramat Gan attack — in which six Israelis were killed and 32 others wounded — was identified as Labib Anwar Fariz Azam, 22, from the Nablus area.

The head of the Shin Bet said Wednesday that after breaking up the Hamas cell they had infiltrated, security agents learned that the cell's members had been ready to carry out car bombings, kidnappings of Israeli soldiers and other attacks to demand the release of jailed Hamas members.

The Shin Bet head said the arrests had been made over the weekend, and that the details of the cell's future plans came out Tuesday as a result of interrogating the arrested Hamas members.

The interrogations, he said, were carried out according to guidelines he had issued after consulting with legal officials.

In addition, he said, the Shin Bet had discovered a bombmaking factory in Nablus, arresting some 30 people connected to it.

The Shin Bet also launched a massive manhunt Wednesday for a leading Hamas activist

According to information released Wednesday, the two Hamas operatives who were arrested had links to Hamas fugitive Yehiya Ayash.

Ayash, known as "the Engineer" for his bombmaking expertise, is believed to have masterminded several suicide attacks against Israelis.

After being trained by Ayash in explosives, the arrested Hamas members, Issa and Ismail, moved from Gaza to the West Bank with forged documents and began planning the attacks and recruiting the bombers.

Palestinian security forces in Gaza were reportedly continuing their hunt for Ayash, who was believed to be hiding out there.

Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, discussing the arrests during a tour of the Golan Heights on Wednesday, did not discount the possibility that the bombers had received their marching orders from Damascus.

"The inspiration might have come from the outside," Rabin said, but he stressed that the actual planning and execution of the attacks originated in the West Bank.

Rabin also confirmed reports that Hamas for the first time announced it hopes to unseat his government before 1996 elections.

"They see in me, as a prime minister in the government that I am privileged to head, the main enemy because we speak for the continuation of the peace process," Rabin told a Reuters reporter.

Wednesday's revelations about Hamas came amid newspaper reports of intense intelligence efforts to foil another attack.

Israeli newspapers reported that Israeli intelligence sources were warning that Muslim extremists were planning more suicide attacks in the coming weeks, as Israeli and Palestinian negotiators are hammering out a final agreement for expanding Palestinian self-rule in the West Bank.

Responding to the reports, Environment Minister Yossi Sarid said the chances of another suicide attack were no greater than at other times. "There is nothing new in the last days," he said. "We have to be on watch, on guard, all the time. We are trying to do our best in order to avoid such unfortunate and very tragic events."

The opposition Likud Party welcomed the Shin Bet arrests, but called them further proof that the government's peace policy has failed.

The Likud said in a statement that the fact that the people who planned the attacks were trained in Gaza — within the boundaries of Palestine Liberation Organization leader Yasser Arafat's self-rule authority — proved that the government policy was hopeless.

Meanwhile, opposition members and other right-wing activists, including reserve army generals, rabbis, municipal leaders and families who lost members to terror, began a hunger strike Wednesday opposite the Prime Minister's office in Jerusalem to protest the government's peace policy.