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At Least 5 Injured in Gaza Clash - 2001-12-20

At least five people were injured in Gaza early Thursday morning when Palestinian protesters prevented Palestinian police from arresting a leader of the Islamic militant group Hamas.

A couple of hundred Hamas supporters blocked the police from entering the house in Gaza where Abdel Aziz Rantisi was located. The police were trying to arrest the Hamas leader. Several people were injured in the clashes before the police retreated. Mr. Rantisi says he will not surrender to the authorities.

Mr. Rantisi went into hiding after Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat started his crackdown on militant violence. Hamas and other radical groups say they reject Mr. Arafat's appeal to end their attacks against Israeli civilians,

Yasser Arafat already has put the spiritual leader of Hamas under house detention. And, he has closed down several Hamas offices in Gaza.

Israel has demanded Yasser Arafat crack down on extremist violence but complains he was not doing enough. Last week, the government cut off contacts with the Palestinian leader. Israel then took matters into its own hands, intensifying its air strikes against Palestinian security targets and moving troops and tanks into the West Bank and Gaza to make arrests and confiscate weapons.

The violence appears to have subsided after Mr. Arafat appealed on Sunday for an end to militant attacks.

The clashes in Gaza early Thursday came only a few hours after a meeting of Israeli and Palestinian security officials. Israel has no comment on the content of the meeting. But the top security chief for the West Bank says the Palestinians reject a proposal from Foreign Minister Shimon Peres to ease Israel's restrictions on a city by city basis, linked to the success of the Palestinian crackdown on violence.

Still, the fact the meeting took place at all is seen as a sign of easing tensions, and early Thursday Israeli troops started pulling out of some neighborhoods of the West Bank town of Ramallah.