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April 2, 2003
 
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Israel Carries Out Major Roundup of Palestinians

Reuters


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By Muin Shadeed

TULKARM, West Bank (Reuters) - Israeli troops rounded up large numbers of Palestinians in the occupied West Bank city of Tulkarm on Wednesday in a fresh sweep for wanted militants.

Soldiers in tanks and armored vehicles backed by helicopters imposed a curfew and searched homes for militants before telling males aged 14 to 40 to gather in the courtyard of a local school or face punishment, residents told Reuters.

Palestinian witnesses said about 2,000 people were rounded up. The Israeli army said it was about half that number.

At least seven were identified as wanted militants and formally arrested, the army said. Identity checks continued on the others and those not on the wanted list would be quickly freed, it added. Troops were also searching houses for weapons.

It was the largest round-up of Palestinians in Tulkarm for a year and came after an Islamic militant from a nearby village blew himself up outside a cafe in the Israeli seaside town of Netanya on Sunday, wounding 30 people.

Palestinian militant groups have been waging an independence uprising against Israel since September, 2000. Israeli forces have detained thousands of Palestinians in the conflict, many of them in citywide dragnets in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

About 4,800 remained in jail as of early March -- 1,400 serving prison sentences, 1,090 undergoing legal proceedings and some 2,400 in detention without charge, the Israeli human rights group B'tselem said, quoting army and prison figures.

U.S. URGES RESTRAINT

The United States, chief mediator in the conflict, is now preoccupied with war in Iraq and facing rising anti-American resentment in the Arab world. It has urged Israel to restrain military operations and called on Palestinians to curb attacks.

Palestinian violence has tailed off somewhat since U.S. and British forces invaded Iraq on March 20, while Israel has eased off on raids against Islamic militants in Gaza.

In response to Sunday's bombing, which the Islamic Jihad said was a gift to the people of Iraq, Israel razed the home of the 19-year-old bomber in a village outside Tulkarm on Tuesday.

On Wednesday, Israeli forces demolished the Hebron home of a militant who the army said had shot dead an Israeli and carried out many other attacks.

Palestinians and human rights organizations condemn house demolitions as collective punishment, while Israel says the practice is necessary to deter attacks.

In Ramallah, Palestinian hospital officials said a 17-year-old Palestinian died of gunshot wounds suffered in a stone-throwing clash with soldiers.

At least 1,960 Palestinians and 727 Israelis have been killed since Palestinian militants rose up in September, 2000, after peace negotiations envisaging a Palestinian state in the West Banka and Gaza broke down.

Copyright 2003 Reuters News Service. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

 
 
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