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20 Palestinian Militants Arrested in Ramallah - 2003-08-02

Palestinian security forces are detaining 20 militants who have been sheltering in Yasser Arafat's headquarters in the West Bank town of Ramallah. At least 14 of the men are believed to be from the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, an armed faction of the Palestinian leader's Fatah movement.

Palestinian officials say their security forces arrested the militants, confining them in one room.

A Palestinian official said the men would be transferred to jails in Jericho and the Gaza strip.

Israel has long accused Mr. Arafat, chairman of the Palestinian Authority, of harboring wanted militants in his compound. Pressure for Saturday's arrests came after Israeli intelligence reportedly learned that some of the militants were planning suicide bombings in Israeli cities.

A senior Palestinian official who did not want to be named said the move came as part of a deal with Israel that may see the lifting of restrictions on Mr. Arafat, who has been confined to his compound for the past 18 months.

The arrests of the militants followed their refusal to move to the West Bank town of Jericho, according to Kamal Ghanem, a Ramallah chief of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades.

Mr. Ghanem told journalists that the men refused, despite being addressed by Mr. Arafat, who told them that, "the world has changed," and that he was under intense pressure over their presence.

Mr. Arafat, responding to international pressure, appointed a Palestinian prime minister last April - the first time he has shared power in more than 35 years.

The new prime minister, Mahmoud Abbas, has committed the Palestinian Authority to support the internationally backed road map plan aimed at securing peace in the region.