IDF Arrests Top Militant in West Bank; Qassam Hits Ashkelon

Head of PRC in northern West Bank among nine militants arrested; Fatah claims responsibility for Ashkelon strike.

The Israel Defense Forces arrested a top commander of the Popular Resistance Committees in the West Bank on Monday, as Palestinian militants fired three Qassam rockets from the Gaza Strip.

IDF troops arrested nine Palestinians in the town of Qabatiya, near the city of Jenin, including Yasser Nazzal, head of the Popular Resistance Committee in the northern West Bank, and two Islamic Jihad militants.

"The leader [Nazzal] will be replaced by a thousand leaders and resistance will continue," PRC spokesman in Gaza, Abu Mujahed, said, adding that "We tell the Zionist enemy that your message has been received and now you should await the response."

Both groups have often fired Qassam rockets into Israel from the Gaza Strip.

While the PRC is primarily a Gaza-based organization, in the past year it has begun extending its operations to the West Bank. The organization was responsible for the abduction and murder of 18-year-old Itamar resident Eliyahu Asheri.

Palestinian militants in Gaza have fired more than 50 Qassam rockets since the two sides declared a cease-fire last month.

A Qassam rocket hit an open field near the western Negev town of Sderot on Monday evening, causing no injuries or damage.

On Monday morning, a Qassam rocket fired from Gaza struck Ashkelon, causing damage to several buildings in the southern port city. There were no injuries.

Israel Radio reported that Fatah-linked militants had claimed responsibility for the attack, which came hours after a Qassam landed just inside Israeli territory, near the northern Gaza Strip border fence. There were no reports of injuries or damage in that strike.

Israel Defense Forces troops operating in the West Bank overnight arrested a wanted Islamic Jihad activist in Bethlehem, site of major Christmas observances, as well as four Fatah fugitives in Ramallah, Israel Radio reported Monday.

On Sunday evening, a Qassam struck near a nursery school in the western Negev town of Sderot, bringing to four the number of rockets fired at Israel on Sunday.

In the West Bank late Sunday, an Israeli was wounded Sunday in a shooting attack northwest of Ramallah.

The man apparently came under Palestinian fire while he was driving on the route that connects the settlements of Oferim and Neveh Tzuf, near the Palestinian village of Dir Abu Meshal.

He sustained moderate leg wounds.

An Israel Defense Forces medical team was called to the scene, and began treating the injured man. He was later evacuated to Beilinson Hospital in Petah Tikva.

The attackers fled the scene and apparently headed southward. IDF troops are currently searching the area in an attempt to capture the attackers and the road on which the attack occurred is currently closed to traffic.

Defense establishment sources said Saturday they believe Palestinian extremists would try to carry out terrorist attacks in order to bring about an escalation of violence in the wake of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas' meeting Saturday night.

Four Qassam rockets fired at Israel from Gaza on SundayAfter a day without rocket strikes, Palestinians fired four Qassam rockets at the western Negev on Sunday, hours after a meeting between Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas.

One rocket hit near a Sderot nursery school on Sunday evening, causing damage to the building and nearby homes. The rocket also damaged streetlights and electricity lines. Eight people were treated for schock, including a woman who suffered from ringing in her ears and was evacuated to Barzilai Medical Center in Ashkelon.

A rocket hit a field between Sderot a local kibbutz earlier in the day, and a second struck in an open field. No injuries or damage were reported in either strike.

The IDF identified a fourth rocket being launched from the Gaza Strip, although it could not be immediately determined where it hit.

Almost 50 rockets have been fired at Israel from the Gaza Strip since a cease-fire agreement was reached between Israel and the Palestinians some four weeks ago.

The Israel Defense Forces refrained from responding to the attacks in accordance with the instructions of the government echelon to continue a policy of restraint in the face of the continuing Qassam fire.

Security sources report that Defense Minister Amir Peretz and the top military tier all support a move to ease some of the limitations imposed on the IDF by the cease-fire with the Palestinians.

Peretz suggested to the prime minister that he allow the IDF to fire only at identified Qassam rocket launching cells, despite the cease-fire. Olmert rejected the recommendation, in light of the progress that he has been making in talks with Abbas.

The Prime Minister's office issued a statement saying that Olmert had expressed his concern over the continued Qassam fire to Abbas at their meeting Saturday. According to the statement, Olmert told Abbas that Israel would be forced to abandon the restraint policy if the Palestinians continue to violate the cease-fire.