Campus search for fundamentalists

March 15, 1996

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat this week took steps to clamp down on the activities of Muslim fundamentalists in the universities and colleges of Gaza and the West Bank.

As Palestinian police searched several campuses, it emerged that the group responsible for this month's bus bombings in Jerusalem and Ashkelon had been based at a teacher training college in the town of Ramallah.

Israel has been pressing the Palestinian Authority to take a stronger line against Hamas and Islamic Jihad after an increase in terrorist attacks on Israeli civilians. Israeli police passed on to their Palestinian counterparts a list of suspects which included students and academic staff at several universities. Following the suicide bomb attacks, which killed more than 60 people, the Israeli government insisted on Palestinian action.

The Hamas cell's leader, Mohammed Abu Warda, was sentenced to life imprisonment with hard labour by a special court in Jericho for his part in the attacks.

In the Gaza strip, Palestinian police entered the Islamic University campus looking for weapons and explosives and questioning staff and students. Three security guards were arrested. The university was a pillar of the intifada and has never hidden its support for fundamentalism. It allows several extremist groups to organise on campus.

West Bank operations focused on Bir Zeit University, alma mater to a Jerusalem suicide bomber and to Yahya Ayash, known as "The Engineer", responsible for constructing many of the bombs used until he was killed in January. Bir Zeit students and staff are among the hundreds rounded up by the Palestinian police.

In Hebron, which has not yet been handed over to Palestinian control, an Islamic university campus was shut down as Israeli troops searched the classrooms and student accommodation.

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