Israel Nabs Top Hamas Terrorist

Israel says they captured the last senior official of Hamas' armed wing still at large in the Ramallah area. Maher Udda was arrested at his home in an operation conducted jointly by the Israel Defense Forces, the Shin Bet security service and the Israel Police capping a decade of efforts by security forces to apprehend him.

Udda, 47, from the village of Ein Yabrud, north of Ramallah, joined Hamas in the early 1990s and headed a Hamas cell in his village that was involved primarily in the capture and interrogation of Palestinian civilians suspected of collaboration with Israel.

The group also amassed weapons to be used against Israeli targets. Udda was arrested in 1998 by security forces belonging to the Palestinian Authority but was released after a few months.

During the second intifada, Udda assumed a leadership role in Hamas' armed wing in Ramallah. He has been wanted by Israel since 2000. During the subsequent several years, Udda worked primarily in financing and directing attacks against Israeli targets and was thought at some point to have served as a deputy to the head of the armed wing of Hamas in Ramallah, Ibrahim Hamed.

Hamed was arrested by Israeli forces four years ago and is considered one of the most prominent prisoners that Israel is refusing to free in connection with a deal for the release of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.

The Ramallah Hamas group committed a series of terrorist attacks, in which more than 70 Israelis were killed, during the second intifada. The Shin Bet has accused Udda of direct involvement in planning and directing two major suicide bombings in 2003: an attack on Cafe Hillel in Jerusalem's German Colony, in which seven Israelis were killed, and an attack at a crowded hitchhiking station at the entrance to the Tzrifin army base near Rishon Letzion, where eight soldiers were killed.

Avi Issacharoff contributed to this report.