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Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Police thwart large-scale terror attack planned for Tel Aviv

Security forces on Tuesday thwarted a large-scale terrorist attack planned for Tel Aviv. Forces arrested a Palestinian resident of the West Bank and three other people at a Bat Yam house after receiving intelligence information from the Shin Bet security service.

A senior member of the Islamic Jihad said the group had planned the attack and had sent one of their militants execute it. Two of the other Palestinians arrested at the Bat Yam house were identified as collaborators and all three were illegally residing in Israel.

Following his arrest in Bat Yam, the suspect led investigators to the nearby city of Rishon Letzion, where he had hidden a bag filled with explosives. Police said the suspect confessed to planning to carry out an attack. He had apparently set out Tuesday morning from the Jenin area with the bag of explosives.

Security sources said the attack was to have been executed Tuesday evening at the central bus station in Tel Aviv. For unknown reasons, the sources said, the suspect had hidden the explosives in a Rishion Letzion trash bin and returned to Bat Yam without them.

It is not clear whether the Palestinians arrested along with the suspect had been aware of his plan to carry out an attack.

After the suspect's arrest, police lowered security levels in the Tel Aviv-Jaffa area, which had been raised hours earlier due to the terror alert.

Suspecting that a suicide bomber had infiltrated the region, security forces had stationed roadblocks across Tel Aviv on Tuesday afternoon, particularly in the southern part of the city.

Police deployed in large numbers to search vehicles and residential yards. The alert level was also extended into Rishon Letzion.

PA officials: 3 U.S. women released after abducted in Nablus
Meanwhile, a Palestinian man released three U.S. women on Tuesday about an hour after abducting them and holding them in a village in the West Bank, a Palestinian official told Reuters.

"The girls are in our hands," Kamal el-Sheikh, governor of the West Bank city of Nablus. The women, all in their 20s, were unharmed, el-Sheikh said. No further details on their identities were released.

Sheikh said "a guy with personal demands" had seized the women shortly after nightfall and held them in a village called Kufr Kalil.

A man calling himself Hadi Saud contacted The Associated Press in Nablus and said he was the kidnapper. He demanded to be given a job in the security forces and medication for a shooting injury sustained last year, in exchange for releasing the hostages. He provided no proof that he was holding the women.

The security officials said the three women were last seen taking pictures on the outskirts of the Balata refugee camp near Nablus. The officials did not release the names of the three women.

Two of the women were volunteers with a non-governmental group involved in water projects in the West Bank, and a third was a friend of theirs, a Palestinian security source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The source said the women had been on an outing in Nablus and were headed back in a taxi when the man kidnapped them at gunpoint, demanding the driver drive to the village.

The kidnapper, who was wounded in the leg in fighting with IDF forces, had demanded medical care and a job in exchange for the women, and officials said they would look at his case, the source said.

Micaela Schweitzer-Bluhm, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem, said U.S. officials were informed of the kidnappings. "We take them extremely seriously," Schweitzer-Bluhm said of the incident.

In the past, scores of foreigners were kidnapped by various Palestinian
militant groups, but usually released unharmed after a few hours.

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