Israel arrests militants in death of British woman

September 7, 2011 - 1:10 PM
Mideast Israel Palestinians US

Senior White House envoy David Hale, left, sits with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas during their meeting at Abbas's headquarters in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2011. The Palestinians on Tuesday said they would not give in to American pressure to drop their bid for statehood at the United Nations, taking a tough position ahead of a meeting with Hale and Dennis Ross. (AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed)

JERUSALEM (AP) — Israeli security forces have arrested Hamas militants accused in a bombing that killed a British woman and wounded dozens of civilians earlier this year, the country's Shin Bet security service announced Wednesday.

The announcement said the militant accused of constructing the bomb, a 36-year-old Palestinian from the West Bank, had been arrested along with a 23-year-old Palestinian from Jerusalem accused of planting it next to a busy bus stop in the city on March 23.

The bomb killed Mary Jean Gardner, a 59-year-old British tourist studying in Jerusalem, and injured two dozen others, including five Americans.

The man accused of planting the bomb was in possession of a second explosive device intended for use by a suicide bomber in an attack planned for Aug. 21, according to the Shin Bet statement. The new bomb was seized a day before the planned attack and the would-be suicide bomber, a 20-year-old Palestinian from Hebron, was caught two days later.

The statement said that in recent months the Shin Bet had arrested "dozens" of suspected militants who belonged to Hamas networks in Jerusalem and the West Bank and operated in coordination with Hamas leaders in Gaza and Syria. Thirteen were identified in the press release.

A spokesman for the Hamas military wing in Gaza had no immediate comment.

The cities of the West Bank are governed by the Western-backed Palestinian Authority under Israel's overall security control.

Palestinian security services have taken on more responsibilities in recent years, including arresting Hamas members and maintaining security coordination with Israel. Israel's military, meanwhile, carries out regular arrest raids and less frequent targeted killings in the West Bank. Israel says the Palestinian Authority is not yet capable of guaranteeing Israel's security.

Hamas has ruled the Gaza Strip since seizing power there from the Palestinian Authority in 2007. Militants in the territory now possess rockets capable of striking across most of southern Israel.

The Palestinian Authority, frustrated by prolonged deadlock in peace talks and capitalizing on international impatience with Israel's current hardline government, is moving ahead with a plan to seek recognition of a state at the United Nations later this month. The move is opposed by Israel and the U.S., who say a Palestinian state should be created through negotiations.

On Wednesday, two senior White House envoys met with Palestinian officials and tried to persuade them to drop the plan and instead resume peace talks.

A senior Palestinian official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to disclose the information, said the American envoys did raise new proposals that would enable talks to resume.