Israeli Army forces broke a general strike by merchants in the occupied West Bank of the Jordan River in a harsh and swift operation that included rounding up about 200 merchants in East Jerusalem during the night and threatening others in Nablus with arrests.
Military government officials said most Arab stores in the West Bank that closed yesterday to protest the assassination attempts of Nablus Mayor Bassam Shaka and Ramallah Mayor Karim Khalaf were opened today after the warnings were issued.
Arab merchants in East Jerusalem said shopkeepers were picked up at their homes late at night and taken to a police compound, where they were told they would get three-month prison sentences if they joined the strike. Some shopkeepers said they were escorted to their stores in the morning and forced at gunpoint to reopen.
Former Bethlehem mayor Elias Freij said that 10 minutes before the normal opening time of his souvenir shop, Israeli security forces used an acetylene torch to cut open a steel door, setting fire to some stock inside. He said he was given no warning to open.
Meanwhile, the government as signed bodyguards to some Arab officials in the West Bank and Gaza Strip following Monday's bomb attacks, in which Shaka lost both legs and Khalai lost a foot.
The West Bank military commander, Brig. Gen. Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, confirmed that the explosives were of Army issue, but authorities insisted that they could have been stolen.
The Itim Hebrew news agency reported it received a telephone call last night from a man who said he was a spokesman for the "Israel Freedom Fighters Movement -- Terror Against Terror." The man said the group is planning an action in Jerusalem that "Arabs will remember for a long time."
The man claimed his group has about 250 members and that its aim is to expel all Arabs from the West Bank. Military officials said they were not familiar with the group.