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Israel Arrests Senior Hamas Member, Demolishes Gaza Buildings - 2003-12-21

Israeli soldiers have arrested a senior political figure of the militant Islamic group Hamas, and in another incident a five-year-old Palestinian boy was killed in a crossfire during raids in the West Bank.

Israeli troops arrested senior Hamas official Adnan Asfour in the West Bank city of Nablus, as part of continuing raids against wanted Palestinian militants.

In recent months, Mr. Asfour has become a prominent spokesman for the group which has carried out numerous suicide bombings and other terror attacks.

His detention was confirmed by his brother Sa'ad who said troops had surrounded Mr. Asfour's apartment block, calling for all residents to evacuate the five-story building before arresting him.

His arrest was one of several detentions of wanted Palestinians carried out by Israeli forces in the area, including the Balata refugee camp, where Palestinian witnesses say a young boy was fatally wounded when he was caught in the cross fire.

On Saturday, Palestinian gunmen killed a Palestinian man they accused of collaborating with Israeli security forces.

Israeli forces are also operating in the Gaza Strip, where they have destroyed at least two tunnels suspected of being used to smuggle weapons from Egypt near Rafah.

Meanwhile, there are new efforts to arrange the first face-to-face meeting between Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and his Palestinian counterpart Ahmed Qureia.

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat says the summit, which is aimed at restarting stalled peace talks, could be held as early as this week. Officials from both sides have been holding discussions for several weeks, trying to agree on a possible agenda.

Both sides hope to arrange a meeting of the two prime ministers in order to revive the international "road map" peace plan. The plan - which is backed by the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations - calls for an immediate end to violence and the establishment of an independent Palestinian state by 2005.