— 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.
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