RAMALLAH, West Bank (AP) -- Israeli troops burst into a banquet hall after a brief gun battle and arrested 17 activists from the militant Hamas group as they ate their evening meal at the close of the day's Ramadan fast.
The Thursday evening raid was launched as Egypt and Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement pressed Hamas leaders to halt suicide attacks in Israel during Israel's election campaign, citing concerns that more violence would push Israelis to choose a hardline leader, a Palestinian official said Friday.
Three newspaper polls published Friday indicated Prime Minister Ariel Sharon would retain his job.
Just after sundown in Ramallah on Thursday, a dozen Israeli jeeps and armored vehicles surrounded the six-floor Badran banquet halls building where about 600 Palestinians had gathered to break the Ramadan fast.
Gunmen on the street traded fire with troops briefly before Israeli forces entered the large building, which often hosts several wedding parties at once and was decorated with festive colored lights.
The dinner, organized by Kuwaiti Islamic charities, was to raise money for the families of Palestinians killed, injured or jailed during two years of fighting.
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