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Palestinian police jail top West Bank militant

Published Sep. 10, 2005

Palestinian police arrested a top Islamic Jihad activist in the West Bank town of Jenin on Wednesday, setting off a violent protest against Yasser Arafat's security force.

Islamic Jihad leaders said Palestinian police pulled Mahmoud Tawalbi off a street in Jenin and jailed him in Nablus, 15 miles to the south. Tawalbi, 23, was suspected by Israel of recruiting suicide bombers and sending them into Israel.

About 3,000 Palestinians protesting the arrest surrounded Palestinian Preventive Security headquarters in Jenin, firing guns, throwing grenades and burning cars.

Suicide bombers from Islamic Jihad and Hamas have killed dozens of Israelis and wounded hundreds in 14 months of fighting.

Raanan Gissin, spokesman for Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, said the arrest shows Palestinians "are doing what they are supposed to do." He said Tawalbi had been arrested before. "This time I hope they will keep him behind bars."

The arrest came as Secretary of State Colin Powell scheduled a key Middle East policy speech for Monday at the University of Louisville. On Saturday, President Bush told the United Nations the goal of U.S. policy is a Palestinian state living in peace next to Israel. In an interview Sunday, Powell referred to Palestine, saying the state-in-making should be called by its proper name.

Palestinians have welcomed the U.S. initiative, but Israeli officials are skeptical. Sharon has insisted there can be no negotiations until all violence stops. Up to now, the United States has gone along with that.

But Israeli peace activist Yossi Beilin and Palestinian spokeswoman Hanan Ashrawi said after separate meetings with State Department officials that the seven days of calm Israel requires to precede with an agreed-on program for restarting peace talks is no longer a prerequisite, as far as the United States is concerned.

Beilin said U.S. officials, including Powell, realized the seven-day requirement "is a recipe for never getting to talks." Israeli officials say they have not been notified of a change in U.S. policy.