Israel on Sunday released a senior leader of the Islamic Resistant Movement, Hamas, accused of planning the kidnapping and killing of two Israeli soldiers in 1989. In the meantime, the Palestinian Authority arrested top Hamas military leader, wanted by Israel for masterminding suicide attacks.
Sheikh Salah Shihada, founder and commander of Hamas's armed wing, was freed by Israel after spending 10 years in prison and an additional two years in administrative detention.
Shihada was detained in 1988 on suspicion of having planned and commanded the movement's attacks on Israeli targets in 1987 at the start of the “intifada” -- the Palestinian revolt against Israeli occupation.
He denied orchestrating the kidnapping and killings of Israeli soldiers Ilan Saadon and Avi Sasportas, even though his cell took responsibility for killing them.
Israel did not convict Shihada for the murders due to a lack of evidence, but sentenced him to 10 years in jail for his involvement in other attacks on Israelis. He has been held in administrative detention since 1998.
Shihada was warmly welcomed by dozens of Palestinians upon his arrival at Gaza City, hours after he was released from jail.
“There was no justification and no justice in keeping Shihada in jail after he finished his term,” said Hamas political leader Ismail Abu Shanab.
He said Shihada, 48, had been released as a result of the “intensified intervention” and efforts of Palestinian negotiators.
Hisham Abdel-Razek, Palestinian cabinet minister for prisoner affairs, accompanied Shihada to Gaza from Israel.
Meanwhile, Palestinian police have arrested the Hamas military leader Mohammed Deif, known as the "engineer", reportedly number one on Israel's most wanted list, Israeli television reported Sunday.
Deif was the right-hand man of Abu Ayash, former leader of the Islamic Resistance Movement Hamas, and is suspected by Israel's domestic security service Shin Beth of being behind numerous anti-Israeli attacks, with the nickname "engineer" suggesting expertise in bomb making.
Deif became the number one of the Hamas military wing, the Ezzedin al-Qassam Brigades, after the death of his boss, and is believed to be the mastermind behind a wave of suicide bombings in 1996 and 1997 that killed dozens of Israelis.
Israeli press reports said recently the country's security forces believed that the leadership of Hamas had made a "strategic decision" to renew a suicide bombing campaign.
Despite repeated calls by Israel, the Palestinian authority had not managed to arrest him, but now he has been caught in the north of the Gaza strip, the television reported.
The television's military correspondent said Israel will have to pay a heavy political price to the Palestinian authority for this spectacular move.
Israeli secret service agents have recently expressed considerable satisfaction over security cooperation with the Palestinian authority – (Agencies)
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