Israeli troops arrest Hamas founder

BUREIJ REFUGEE CAMP (Gaza Strip): Israeli troops raiding a Gaza refugee camp arrested a Hamas founder yesterday, targeting the political leadership of the Islamic militant group for the first time in 29 months of fighting. Eight Palestinians, among them a pregnant woman, were killed in clashes in the camp. 

Troops blew up four homes in Gaza's Bureij camp, including that of Hamas co-founder Mohammed Taha, 65, who was wounded in clashes with soldiers, the army said.  

Several adjacent houses and a mosque were damaged by the blasts. 

Mohammed Taha's five sons – all senior Hamas activists – were also arrested.  

One son, Ayman, who was also wounded yesterday, is the assistant of the top Hamas bomb maker and top on Israel's wanted list, Mohammed Deif, the army said. 

The arrests signalled a turning point in Israel's dealings with Hamas, which has killed hundreds of Israelis in shootings and bombings.  

Since the outbreak of fighting in September 2000, Israel has killed scores of Hamas militants and rounded up hundreds of activists, but left the political leadership in Gaza alone. 

Mohammed Taha, a reclusive ideologue, founded Hamas in 1987, along with the group's spiritual leader, Sheik Ahmed Yassin, and three other senior clerics. Since then, Hamas has emerged as Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's main rival. 

Israel's offensive in Gaza began after a four-man tank crew was killed in a Hamas bombing on Feb 16. 

Since then, 44 Palestinians, including Hamas gunmen and at least eight civilians, have been killed in 14 Israeli raids in towns and camps. 

“This is a continuation of the escalated aggression against our people and our holy places,'' Arafat said, referring to the latest raid.  

Cabinet minister Saeb Erekat called for US intervention to stop Israel's actions, saying that “silence to these crimes is an encouragement for their reoccurrence.'' 

Yesterday's incursion began when jeeps and tanks backed by helicopters rolled into Bureij in central Gaza. 

Fierce fighting erupted, and hospital doctors said eight Palestinians were killed. Doctors said five were gunmen and three were civilians – two boys, ages 14 and 16, and a 33-year-old woman who was in her ninth month of pregnancy. 

The woman was killed when her house collapsed on her during the demolition of a nearby building, doctors and her family said. Six other family members were injured, including the woman's husband and two of her sons. – AP  

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