Israeli Troops Mount New Raid on Nablus

The Associated Press
Wednesday, February 28, 2007; 2:54 PM

NABLUS, West Bank -- Israel on Wednesday clamped down on this West Bank city for the second time in a week, confining tens of thousands of people to their homes as troops moved house to house in search of wanted militants.

In nearby Jenin, undercover troops in a black car shot and killed three militants in a parking lot, including the chief spokesman for the Islamic Jihad group, Palestinian officials said.

The army has been operating in Nablus, the West Bank's commercial center, since the weekend. Forces briefly withdrew Tuesday, but at dawn, dozens of jeeps backed by bulldozers moved back in.

Nablus, the largest city on the West Bank, with 160,000 residents, is known as a hotbed of Palestinian militant activity. The Israeli army says most of the suicide bombers involved in last year's attacks came from the area. The army's operation in Nablus is the largest in the West Bank since July.

On Wednesday, Israeli forces blocked all entrances to Nablus' crowded Old City _ the focus of the raid _ as they pursued wanted men. Residents said more than 100 jeeps patrolled city streets, enforcing a curfew that confined about 50,000 Old City residents to their homes.

As troops moved house to house, the army broadcast messages on Palestinian TV and radio stations urging wanted men to surrender.

The army said it has arrested five people and uncovered three explosives labs. One Palestinian civilian has been killed since the Nablus operation began.

The wanted militants remained in hiding, but Palestinian officials said 10 people were wounded as troops clashed with youths throwing stones. Fifty people were detained, although many were released, the officials said, and troops surrounded hospitals to check people going in and out.

"We can't continue to operate like this. Our patients are suffering because the tear gas is coming into the hospital," said Adnan Kuzeih, manager at Itihad Hospital.

The army said one soldier was seriously wounded by a bomb.

In the Gaza Strip, Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas accused Israel of trying to undermine Palestinian efforts to form a unity government. Hamas and the rival Fatah movement are trying to finalize a power-sharing deal reached in Saudi Arabia earlier this month, designed to halt months of infighting.

"It's clear that this Israeli escalation ... is tied directly to Israel's rejection of the Mecca agreement, which strengthened national unity," Haniyeh said.

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