Muhammed Muheisen  /  AP
The mother of the Hamas commander Ibrahim Hamed holds his portrait at the family house in the West Bank village of Silwad near Ramallah on Tuesday.
updated 5/23/2006 10:49:55 AM ET 2006-05-23T14:49:55

A top Hamas military commander, linked by Israel to attacks that killed 78 people, including five Americans, surrendered Tuesday after Israeli troops surrounded his hideout and threatened to demolish it with him inside.

The army said Ibrahim Hamed, 41, masterminded “some of the most deadly terror attacks against Israel in recent years,” including suicide bombings at a pool hall in central Israel, an outdoor cafe in Jerusalem and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, where five Americans and four Israelis died.

Hamas, now the ruling party in the Palestinian areas, has observed an informal truce with Israel since February 2005.

Hamed has been on Israel’s wanted list since 1998, frequently evading capture. Hamed, a university graduate and influential leader, became the West Bank’s commander of Izzedine al Qassam, the Hamas military wing, in December 2003.

Before dawn Tuesday, a dozen jeeps and two armored personnel carriers surrounded his hideout, an apartment building in downtown Ramallah, just 200 yards from the home of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Mohammed Azzam, 48, said he watched the arrest from his balcony facing the two-story building where Hamed was holed up. He said an army bulldozer rammed the door to the hideout, which consisted of two apartments over shops on the ground floor.

Using a loudspeaker, troops then called out Hamed’s name in Arabic. They told Hamed they would demolish the building with him inside if he didn’t surrender, Azzam said.

Hamed emerged before dawn, and stripped to his underwear after being ordered to do so by Israeli troops using a loudspeaker. He was cuffed and taken to a nearby building.

Army officials said Hamed was armed and alone at the time of his capture. After Hamed was arrested, soldiers entered the building and blew out doors and windows, as a robot searched for explosives.

2 copies of Newsweek
The two apartments were sparsely furnished with bamboo chairs and mattresses. A reporter touring the hideout saw two copies of Newsweek magazine on the floor.

Palestinian militants surrendering to troops are routinely asked to strip to ensure they don’t carry explosives.

For some time, Hamed was held in a Palestinian jail for involvement in the Hamas military wing but was released in 2002 during a major Israeli military offensive in the West Bank. Hamed graduated from the West Bank’s Bir Zeit University in 1993, with degrees in history and political science, his nephew Ayman said.

Hamed grew up in the West Bank village of Silwad, and belongs to the same clan as Khaled Mashaal, the top Hamas leader based in Damascus.

The capture came as rival Palestinian factions held talks to quell two weeks of deadly clashes in the Gaza Strip. The violence has raised concern that the internal fighting will escalate into a civil war, but the prime minister of the Hamas-led government said he was persuaded Palestinians would not let that happen.

“We are concerned about ending this crisis. The term civil war does not exist in our dictionary,” Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh said at the start of the meeting in Gaza City. “I assure our people that we can overcome these incidents. These incidents have taken place before and we have overcome the similar incidents.”

Power struggle
The fighting has been fueled by a bitter power struggle between the Hamas government and Abbas, who is a member of the rival Fatah movement. On Monday, in the heaviest battle yet, an aide to the Jordanian ambassador was killed in crossfire and 11 people were wounded in Gaza City.

Tensions soared last week when the Hamas government deployed a 3,000-member force of Hamas militants. The new militia poses a challenge to the Fatah-dominated Palestinian security forces. Armed men from both camps have been patrolling the streets in large numbers, often taking up positions close to each other.

Abbas, who led a similar meeting Tuesday of all factions in the West Bank city of Ramallah, he said he was hopeful that a round of “national dialogue” talks supposed to begin Thursday could help the sides resolve their differences.

“Each one of us feels the national cause is in danger so we have to work to make sure this dialogue succeeds,” Abbas said.

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