Yasser Arafat’s troops on Tuesday rounded up dozens of followers of a radical Syrian-based faction suspected in a deadly ambush on Israeli security guards.
Arafat is under pressure from Israeli leaders who have told him they will not agree to expanding Palestinian self-rule to the West Bank unless he foils attacks on Israelis.
Signaling that he is serious about reining in the militants, an angry Arafat said he won’t let anyone spoil his peace agreement with Israel.
“We won’t permit these groups to harm the Israelis, the Palestinians or the peace process,” Arafat said. “We’ll continue, in our way, to deal with … all these fanatic and extremist forces. We won’t allow them to continue with these activities.”
Tuesday’s sweep targeted the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a Damascus-based group that claimed responsibility for Monday’s ambush in Gaza, in which one Israeli security guard was killed and another was wounded.
Nihad Abul-Ghosh, a leading Democratic Front member, said the arrests began at dawn when police rounded up 35 activists. Police later picked up 10 more at the group’s office in Gaza City.
Throughout the day, police returned twice more to the group’s headquarters, an unmarked thirdfloor office in downtown Gaza City, and detained a dozen more members.
Palestinian officials said about 60 of the 70 people sought were in detention. Police also carted away boxes with documents and files, said shopkeepers who witnessed the raids.
Many Democratic Front activists went into hiding, said Abul-Ghosh, who himself later left the group’s headquarters.
Arafat may have been less reluctant to go after the Marxist Democratic Front, which has only a few hundred followers in the Gaza Strip, than he would be to target the Muslim militant groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad, which have the sympathy of an estimated 30 percent of the 900,000 Gazans.