Sunday, October 20, 2002

Israel Continues Its Crackdown With Raids in the West Bank
Israeli troops raided houses in the West Bank today and arrested at least eight people suspected of being militants, continuing their crackdown on a Palestinian uprising despite calls for calm from Washington.

The predawn raids centered on the city of Nablus, and the men detained belonged to Yasir Arafat's Fatah faction and the militant Islamic group Hamas, the army and Palestinian witnesses said.

Witnesses said troops searched six houses whose occupants had already fled. Four soldiers were injured as they blew up the door of a wanted man's house in the Balata refugee camp in Nablus.

The sweep came as Israel eased its hold on several West Bank cities, a day after Prime Minister Ariel Sharon returned from talks in Washington and an American envoy, William J. Burns, set off for the Middle East with a peace plan

The United States, Israel's closest ally, wants to see Israel ease its curfews and closures as it tries to rally Arab support for a possible war against Iraq.

The army suspended its curfew indefinitely in Jenin but tightened its grip around the city, a militant bastion like Nablus. Military sources said a troop presence in Hebron would also be scaled back ahead of talks on a potential withdrawal.

Restrictions on movement were also eased in Hebron, Tulkarm, Nablus and Qalqilya, the army said.

But the measures were unlikely to calm tensions aggravated by Israeli shelling that killed six Palestinians after militants fired on an army outpost in the Gaza Strip on Thursday.

The United States called for an Israeli investigation into the killings. "We are deeply concerned by reports that civilians and children were among those killed and injured," a State Department spokeswoman said.

The new violence soured the mood before Mr. Burns's tour and imperiled planned Israeli-Palestinian talks to build on a high-level meeting on Wednesday, the first in weeks.