Israeli troops conduct West Bank raids

March 01, 2007|By Ken Ellingwood | Ken Ellingwood,LOS ANGELES TIMES

JERUSALEM -- Israeli troops shot and killed three Palestinian militants during a raid yesterday in the West Bank town of Jenin and also entered Nablus for the second time this week.

In Jenin, undercover Israeli forces moved to arrest two Islamic Jihad members allegedly involved in a foiled suicide bombing in Tel Aviv last week, Israeli officials said. The troops shot back after being fired upon, killing the suspects and a man with them, officials said.

The dead were identified as Ashraf Saadi, 29, suspected of involvement in numerous shootings and bombings, and Mohammed Abu Naasah, 34, an Islamic Jihad commander in the Jenin refugee camp. Officials said the third man, Alaa Jabali, served as an assistant, but they did not specify his role or age.

Last week, Israeli forces killed an Islamic Jihad commander from Jenin who was suspected of helping organize the Tel Aviv bombing, foiled a day earlier when police in suburban Bat Yam captured a Palestinian who allegedly planned to detonate himself. He led authorities to a site where he had hidden explosives.

Islamic Jihad vowed to avenge yesterday's deaths. The group claimed responsibility for firing three of five rockets launched yesterday from the Gaza Strip at southern Israel.

Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas accused Israel of trying to undermine plans for a Palestinian unity government in which Hamas would share power with its main rival, Fatah.

In Nablus, thousands of residents were again placed under curfew, a day after Palestinians said Israeli troops had withdrawn. Residents were ordered to stay inside and schools were closed.

Israeli officials said the operation was part of a push to root out militants and impair their ability to carry out attacks on Israel.

The Israeli raid, launched Sunday, has uncovered storerooms containing explosives, belts used by suicide bombers, a shoulder-fired missile and communications equipment, army officials said. A Palestinian was killed Monday during the raid.

Nablus, the largest city in 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.

Yesterday, 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 Israeli troops moved from house to house, the army broadcast messages on Palestinian television and radio stations urging suspects to surrender.

The army said it has arrested five people and uncovered three explosives labs.

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, though many were released, 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.

Ken Ellingwood writes for the Los Angeles Times. The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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