x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

Hamas arrests two after gun battle

Hamas arrests two suspects in the killing of a Italian activist after police storm house; another suspect said to have committed suicide during gun fight.

Palestinians run for cover in the Nusseirat refugee camp in the Gaza Strip during a shoot-out between Hamas security forces and suspects in the killing of Italian activist Vittorio Arrigoni.
Palestinians run for cover in the Nusseirat refugee camp in the Gaza Strip during a shoot-out between Hamas security forces and suspects in the killing of Italian activist Vittorio Arrigoni.

JERUSALEM // Hamas says it has arrested two militants suspected in the slaying of an Italian activist and that a third suspect committed suicide rather than be arrested.

Ihab Ghussein, Hamas interior ministry spokesman, said yesterday that police stormed a house after a fierce gun battle. One of the militants threw grenades at his two associates, wounding them, and then shot himself to death, he said.

Five Hamas policemen were injured as well as a girl who was caught in the crossfire.

The men are believed to have abducted and executed Italian activist Vittorio Arrigoni, 36, last week.

Hamas security forces surrounded a home in Gaza's Nuseirat refugee camp where at least six men - who are thought to have links with al Qa'eda - planned last week's kidnapping.

Hamas member Mahmoud Zahar said three of the men were hiding in the home. They fired on approaching Hamas officers, injuring three of them. The officers reportedly entered the building and took control of the bottom levels.

"They refused to surrender and started shooting at our people," said Mr Zahar. He said the injured officers were being treated at Gaza's Al Shifa Hospital.

Arrigoni's murder has alarmed Gazans and raised questions about Hamas security in the Palestinian enclave, and officials appeared to be taking no chances yesterday.

Security personnel closed roads leading to the four-storey building and declared the area a security zone because, according to a statement posted on Hamas' interior ministry website, "of the suspicion of the presence of the fugitives".

The three suspects at the apartment building yesterday are thought to be members of a radical Islamist group calling itself Tawhid and Jihad, which released a video on Thursday showing it had kidnapped Arrigoni.

The group appears to one of a number of small but, it seems, increasingly influential Jihadi-Salafi cells that espouse a far more militant interpretation of Islam than does Hamas. Some oppose Hamas rule in Gaza. In its video, Tawhid and Jihad demanded that Hamas release from prison the group's leader, Hisham Saidani, in exchange for Arrigoni. But the Italian's body was later found in an empty apartment building.

Hamas police published photos of the suspected killers on Monday, naming them as Abdulrahman al Breizat, Bilal al Umari and Mahmoud Salfiti. At least one is believed to be a Jordanian.

Mr Zahar said the three other suspects, the owner of the home and his two sons, had been arrested prior to yesterday's raid and have been questioned.

Their affiliation with the alleged members of Tawhid and Jihad is unclear. Mr Zahar described them as possibly, providing information about Arrigoni that included surveillance of his daily activities.

He said the father denied any knowledge of the plan, but one of the sons "who followed him [Arrigoni] denied knowing that the intention was to execute him. But the third man said he had no idea, but it seems like he was there and participated in the execution."

Mr Zahar emphasised that Hamas' security in Gaza is sound.

"Security for foreigners is good; there is no threat to anybody," he said.

 

hnaylor@thenational.ae