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UK Press: IRA Bomber Is A Journalist


UK and other European media are reporting the Irish national arrested on Sunday on suspicion of being a bomb-maker is actually a member of the press, covering events in Palestinian Authority areas.

Israel Questions Member of Irish Guerrilla Group Sonja Pace (VOA Jerusalem) & Ha'aretz

Israeli security officials are questioning a suspected member of an Irish guerrilla group for possible links to Palestinian militants. At the same time, two major Palestinian militant groups are warning that their self-imposed freeze on attacks against Israel could end. The latest news comes as Israel's Prime Minister held talks in London about Middle East peace prospects.

Israeli security sources said they arrested a foreigner, in the West Bank city of Ramallah, whom they believe is a member of the Real Irish Republican Army, a group that rejects any peace deal for Northern Ireland. Officials said the man entered Israel on a tourist visa and then slipped into the West Bank. They believe he may have been sent to train Palestinian militants in making bombs and explosives.

British intelligence is rechecking the truth of information recently sent to Israel about a Northern Irish bomb expert allegedly helping Palestinian terror cells. The John Morgan arrested near Ramallah turned out to be a journalist and pro-Palestinian peace activist, not a member of the Real IRA.

Irish sources told Ha'aretz the British security services had no up-to-date picture of the suspected terrorist, so they identified him only by name, and John Morgan is a common name. The Morgan believed to be a bomb specialist - not the one held in Israel - is in his 40s, lived in south Armagh, and is known to British and Irish security services. An Irish police source said this Morgan "disappeared three years ago as if the earth swallowed him and we began to suspect he was up to something."

But the Morgan arrested near Ramallah, also in his 40s, is a known journalist and teacher who lives in Belfast and works in promoting Gaelic language and culture. He also uses his Gaelic name, Sean O'Muireagain, not the approximate English translation John Morgan.

He is also a member of a pro-Palestinian organization known as the Irish-Palestinian Solidarity Movement, a Belfast branch of the International Solidarity Movement, which sends non-violence volunteers to the occupied territories to help human rights groups and Palestinians to deal with the Israeli military occupation authorities.

"It's preposterous, we believe this is mistaken identity, they've picked up an Irishman, he's from Belfast, and maybe they've put two and two together and got 16," Kathleen Connell, secretary of the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign in Belfast, told Reuters.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon held talks in London Monday with his British counterpart Tony Blair. He wants to press Blair and other European leaders to cut any links with Palestinian President Yasir Arafat, whom Israel accuses of supporting terrorism and sabotaging peace efforts.

But in Ramallah Sunday, Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas and visiting Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov appealed to Israel to allow Arafat freedom of movement. Arafat has been under virtual house arrest in his compound in Ramallah for the last year and a half. Israeli troops have demolished most of the buildings in the compound. Israel has said that Arafat is free to leave, but it will not guarantee that he would be allowed to return.

In the past few days Palestinian security forces have begun confiscating illegal weapons in Gaza and have arrested several people for having unlicensed guns. Two major Palestinian militant groups - Islamic Jihad and Hamas have warned their unilateral ceasefire for attacks against Israel could unravel if the Palestinian Authority insists on disarming their fighters.

Survey: Many Palestinians Not Anxious to Return to Israel

By Irris Makler (VOA-Ramallah)

A survey finds the majority of Palestinian refugees would not wish to return to Israel after a peace deal is negotiated. It says most would prefer to remain where they are now or move to live under Palestinian control in the West Bank or Gaza strip. But the Palestinian organization, which conducted the survey, could not release its findings because hundreds of Palestinians trashed its offices.

Its one of the most emotive issues in the Mideast conflict - the right of Palestinians to return to land occupied by their families before the state of Israel was established in 1948.

Palestinians insist on this right in recognition of their losses of land and homes. But Israelis fear the return of refugees and their descendants, more than 4 million people scattered throughout the Middle East, arguing that absorbing this number would alter the nature of the Jewish state.

Just how emotive an issue this is was evident Sunday when the publication of survey data by a Palestinian think tank was prevented by an angry Palestinian mob. The press conference at the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research - an independent academic institute in Ramallah - was stormed by hundreds of people bused in from surrounding refugee camps. The crowd ran up the stairs, throwing eggs and coffee, breaking windows and trashing the offices, preventing publication of the findings.

"We are here to protest against this organization of spies, and its discredited survey which has been funded by Americans and Zionists, against the refugees and the right of return", said one protester. "My family has struggled so hard for us to return over more than 50 years and now this spy comes and tells lies, saying that we don't want to go home", said a second man.

The protesters handed out leaflets in English published by the PLO, calling the results of the survey fabricated. "We certainly didn't expect this, no indication that any of this would happen," said Dr. Khalil Shiqaqi, the director of the Policy Research Center.

He denied the results were fabricated, and that the survey, the first of its kind - was the result of three years of research. Shiqaqi said the protesters were misled about the information in the survey. "We believe that most of the people had no idea whatsoever what the results are, the statement they published was full of outright lies about the results," he says. "They said that 95 percent give up right of return whereas in fact 95 percent insist on right of return - and survey is trying to find what happens next."

The findings are that in opposition to Jewish fears, most refugees do not want to return to land their families lost in Israel. All want recognition of their right to return, but 55 percent want to move to the Palestinian controlled West Bank or Gaza and 20 percent want to stay where they are, or immigrate overseas to countries such as Germany.

Most Palestinians surveyed say that they would accept financial compensation to give up the right of return although some families expect hundreds of thousands of dollars. Israeli authorities have not yet had a chance to see and respond to this data.

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