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Marwan Barghouti Captured by Israel - 2002-04-15

Israeli forces have captured Marwan Barghouti, a close aide to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and a leader of the current uprising against the Jewish state.

Mr. Barghouti was arrested in an apartment in the West Bank city of Ramallah, not far from Chairman Arafat's headquarters.

Mr. Barghouti is the head of Mr. Arafat's Fatah movement in the West Bank and has allegedly been behind scores of attacks against Israelis. He is a top militant leader and is an outspoken supporter of using violence as a tool during the current conflict, although he has not admitted to being directly responsible for planning attacks.

The Fatah chief has been mentioned as a possible successor to Mr. Arafat and has gained popularity as a leader of the "intifada," the Palestinian uprising against Israeli occupation.

Israel says Mr. Barghouti is a leading figure in the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, a group linked to the Fatah faction. The militia has claimed dozens of attacks against Israelis, and in recent months has begun staging suicide bombings as well.

The group claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing last Friday in Jerusalem that killed seven people.

Mr. Barghouti was arrested as a teenager for membership in an armed Fatah squad. He served six years in prison before being deported in the late 1980s.

In 1994 he was among the first exiles to return home, following interim Palestinian peace agreements with the Israelis. Mr. Barghouti was known then as a supporter of the peace process, and many Israelis have been puzzled by his transformation into one of the most radical Palestinian officials.

The head of West Bank security for the Palestinians, Jibril Rajoub, warned Israel against "killing or humiliating" Mr. Barghouti, saying such action would bring "catastrophes for Israel and will expand the circle of violence."

Israeli forces have been searching for the Fatah leader since they launched a major West Bank offensive late last month, following a series of suicide bombings that killed scores of Israelis.

Earlier, teams from the International Committee of the Red Cross and Red Crescent, accompanied by Israeli troops, began searching for bodies in the Jenin refugee camp.

Palestinians have charged that hundreds of people have been killed in the camp, including many civilians. The Israeli military estimates that dozens have died and says most were gunmen.