Palestinians staged a general strike and Israelis issued a security alert Wednesday, one day after Israeli troops laid siege to a prison in the West Bank city of Jericho and captured a Palestinian militant. Palestinian militants on Wednesday released all of the hostages who were seized on Tuesday in the Palestinian territories in retaliation for the prison siege.
Shops, schools and offices were closed throughout the Palestinian territories in protest against Israel's siege of the Jericho jail and the capture of Ahmed Sadaat, the leader of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, and several associates. The militants were being held at the jail after the P.F.L.P. claimed responsibility for the assassination of Israeli Tourism Minister Rehavam Zeevi in 2001.
Touring the badly damaged Jericho facility on Wednesday, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas called the Israeli action a crime.
Mr. Abbas called the raid an insult to the Palestinian people and said British and U.S. inspectors at the jail had cooperated with Israeli authorities, a charge all three countries strongly deny.
The militants had been in detention under an unusual arrangement agreed to by Israel, the United States and Britain, which allowed for the militants to be in Palestinian custody at the jail -- their incarceration monitored by U.S. and British officials. After British and U.S. monitors vacated the facility, citing security concerns, Israeli forces laid siege to the jail.
Israeli cabinet minister Zeev Boim says Israel decided to act after it appeared to Israeli authorities that President Abbas, also known as Abu Mazen, would release the militants.
"Unfortunately when Hamas came to power, after the last elections took place, the situation changed and even President Abu Mazen admitted he was ready to release these murderers," Mr. Boim said.
In his first public comments on the issue, Israel's acting prime minister, Ehud Olmert, said Wednesday that Ahmed Saadat and his associates, as well as another Palestinian linked to a massive arms shipment to the Palestinians that was intercepted at sea by Israel in 2002, will now be put on trial in Israeli courts.