Israel nabs suspects in Passover shooting

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Associated Press

Posted on June 23, 2014 at 1:32 PM

Updated Monday, Jun 23 at 1:33 PM

JERUSALEM (AP) — Israeli authorities on Monday announced the arrest of an alleged Hamas operative for involvement in the deadly shooting of an Israeli police officer in the West Bank over the Passover holiday in April.

The announcement came as Israel pressed forward with a crackdown on Hamas across the West Bank in response to the June 12 disappearance of three Israeli teenagers. Israel has said the Islamic militant group abducted the youths, though it has presented no proof.

The Israeli military and the Shin Bet security agency said Monday they arrested Ziad Awad, 42, and his 18-year-old son. They said the elder Awad was among more than 1,000 prisoners freed in 2011 in exchange for an Israeli soldier held by Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

In the April 14 shooting, gunmen fired at civilian vehicles traveling in the West Bank, killing a senior Israeli police commander on his way to a traditional Passover dinner with relatives. The officer's wife was critically wounded and a child in another car was also hurt, while the assailants fled the scene.

The statement said the suspects were arrested on May 7. A gag order preventing publication of the arrests was lifted Monday.

The statement said Awad's son disclosed the whereabouts of the assault rifle used in the attack and gave additional details confirming his father's involvement.

Later Monday, the army issued an order for the demolition of Awad's family house in the West Bank village of Idna.

The Israeli rights group B'Tselem said 13 people live in the home, including eight children, and that the demolition is harming the innocent. The group said the army concluded years ago that punitive home demolitions are not an effective deterrent and that it carried out only one such demolition in the past decade.

The arrest of the Awads took place weeks before the alleged kidnapping of the Israeli youths. Since the abduction, Israel has rounded up dozens of other Hamas operatives freed in the 2011 prisoner swap.

Samer Issawi, one of those released in 2011, was rearrested for a second time Monday, said Issa Karake, a former Palestinian minister for prisoners' affairs. After his first return to prison in 2013, Issawi had refused food for nearly nine months, taking only water and vitamins to press for his freedom, and was released six months ago.

The kidnappings have prompted the largest Israeli ground operation in the West Bank in nearly a decade, as troops frantically search for the youths. Israel has said its secondary goal is to destroy Hamas "infrastructure" in the West Bank.

The Israeli military said 37 Palestinians were detained overnight Monday and 80 locations were searched. It said it also raided seven Hamas civilian institutions. The Islamic group runs a network of social service programs.

Since launching the operation, Israel has detained 361 Palestinians, including 250 Hamas operatives and 57 former prisoners released in 2011. The army said it has also raided 63 Hamas civilian institutions.

Among those rounded up in the sweep was Hassan Yousef, a senior Hamas figure in the West Bank. Yousef's son, Qusai, said his father was ordered held without charges or trial for six months. The Israeli military had no immediate comment.

The teens have not been heard from and no demands have emerged from their captors.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has condemned the alleged kidnappings. He has ordered his security forces to cooperate in the search and continue a policy of coordination with Israeli troops. The continued security cooperation has drawn heavy criticism from the Palestinian public.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has given lukewarm praise to Abbas, but demanded the Palestinian leader dissolve a new unity government formed with Hamas' backing earlier this month, before the teenagers disappeared.

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Associated Press writer Mohammed Daraghmeh in Ramallah, West Bank, contributed to this report.

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