Israeli army back in Bethlehem, Al-Aqsa chief arrested


The Israeli army stormed

The re-occupation came as US Secretary of State Colin Powell tried to temper President George W. Bush's remarks that Yasser Arafat had "let his people down", saying the Palestinian leader "could do better."

Dozens of Palestinians were seized as troops and about 20 armoured vehicles moved into Bethlehem before dawn, taking up positions across the town, including around the Church of the Nativity, scene of a five-week siege which ended on May 10.

Palestinian security sources said Ahmed Moghrabi, Bethlehem head of Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, an armed group of Arafat's Fatah movement at the forefront of anti-Israeli attacks, had been arrested, as well as the sister of a suicide bomber who killed two Israelis in a Jerusalem supermarket on March 29.

About 20 people were held as troops, accompanied by agents from the Shin Beth internal security agency, made house-to-house searches in the town and the nearby refugee camp of Dheisheh, herding around 500 men out for identity checks.

Another two wanted Al-Aqsa men were seized, including Ali Youssef Ahmed Moghrabi, 16, Ahmed's brother and Mahmud Salem Salman Sarahna, 25, Israeli military sources said.

The men are accused by Israel of organizing the suicide attack by a 16-year-old - the youngest suicide bomber ever - that killed two Israelis last Wednesday in a Tel Aviv suburb.

It was the second such raid in 24 hours, and came a day after army chief of staff General Shaul Mofaz warned that Israel could launch much "deeper" incursions to thwart suicide bombers, who, according to Israeli statistics, are being intercepted at a rate of two a day.