By Jim Teeple

Jerusalem – Israeli police and defense forces are on high alert, after Israeli forces captured a leading Palestinian militant after storming a jail in the West Bank city, Jericho, Tuesday. Palestinian militants have threatened retaliation for the Israeli action.

Israeli security forces are on a state of alert – just below the maximum alert level – following Tuesday’s ten-hour siege at the Jericho jail. After tanks and bulldozers broke through the walls of the jail, Israeli forces captured Ahmed Saadat – the leader of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine – and several of his colleagues. Saadat and his associates were being held at the jail after the PFLP claimed responsibility for the assassination of Israeli Tourism Minister Rehavam Zeevi in 2001.

The siege sparked violence across the Palestinian territories and led to the abduction of a number of foreigners. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has been forced to cut short a European tour and return home to deal with the crisis. His spokesman, Nabil Abu Rudeineh, told reporters Israel caused the crisis by violating the agreement concerning Saadat and the other militants in detention.

“The Israelis committed a crime and we condemn this action,” he said. “We urge the Europeans, the quartet [the four countries working for Mideast peace] and the United States to do all their best to help keep the lives of the kidnapped persons [the militants] in the prison.”

The militants had been in detention under an unusual arrangement agreed to by Israel, the United States and Britain, which allowed for the militants to be in Palestinian custody at the jail – their incarceration monitored by U.S. and British officials. After British and U.S. monitors vacated the facility, citing security concerns, Israeli forces laid siege to the jail.

Israeli cabinet minister Zeev Boim, says Israel decided to act after it appeared to Israeli authorities that President Abbas, also known as Abu Mazen, would release the militants.

“Unfortunately when Hamas came to power, after the last elections took place, the situation changed and even President Abu Mazen admitted he was ready to release these murderers,” said Boim.

Israeli officials say Ahmed Saadat and his associates, as well as another Palestinian linked to a massive arms shipment to the Palestinians that was intercepted at sea by Israel in 2002, will now be put on trial in Israeli courts.



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