Palestinian security forces have arrested a group of Palestinians for collaborating with Israel and posing as operatives of Osama Bin Laden's Al-Qaeda terrorist network, a senior official said yesterday.
The Palestinian Authority said Israel's Mossad spy agency has set up a fake Al-Qaeda cell in Gaza so that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon could justify Israeli attacks in Palestinian areas.
The arrests come two days after Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon charged Al-Qaeda militants were operating in Gaza and in Lebanon.
'The Palestinian Authority arrested a group of collaborators who confessed they were working for Israel, posing as Al-Qaeda operatives in the Palestinian territories,' said the official, on condition of anonymity. He said the alleged collaborators sought to 'discredit the Palestinian people, justify every Israeli crime and provide reasons to carry out a new (military) aggression in the Gaza Strip.'
'It is a big, big, big lie to cover (Sharon's) attacks and his crimes against our people everywhere,' Palestinian President Yasser Arafat told reporters at his headquarters in the West Bank city of Ramallah. Arafat termed Israeli claim of Al-Qaeda in Gaza presence ridiculous.
Palestinian Information Minister Yasser Abed Rabbo pointed to an Israeli plot. 'There are certain elements who were instructed by the Mossad to form a cell under the name of Al-Qaeda in the Gaza Strip in order to justify the assault and the military campaigns of the Israeli occupation army against Gaza,' Abed Rabbo said.
Earlier, International Cooperation Minister Nabil Shaath announced he would hold a press conference here at 2 p.m. (1200 GMT) on the alleged presence of Al-Qaeda operatives in the Gaza Strip.
Sharon's claim about the presence of Al-Qaeda in Gaza was considered a surprise because Gaza Strip is virtually sealed off by Israeli troops.
The Israeli leader also charged other members of the terror group were cooperating with Lebanon's Hezbollah.