- The Washington Times - Friday, July 11, 2008

TEL AVIV | The ruling Palestinian Authority in the West Bank said it was in a “state of shock” Thursday after Israel shut down a West Bank shopping mall purportedly linked to Hamas, while a fragile cease-fire was further threatened after troops fatally shot a Palestinian teenager in the Gaza Strip.

“Since when are shopkeepers targets of Israeli raids? This act makes us all Hamas, and it makes us all extremists. Israel is making a big mistake,” said Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salaam Fayyad.

“We are in a state of shock,” Mr. Fayyad said.

Dozens of Israeli armored vehicles raided Nablus in the northern West Bank early Thursday as part of a three-day crackdown on suspected Hamas sites and sympathizers.

Meanwhile, Israeli troops fatally shot a teenage Palestinian militant along the border with the Gaza Strip on Thursday in the first deadly incident since the two sides reached a cease-fire last month.

A faction of the militant group Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade said the dead 18-year-old was a member. It vowed revenge and claimed responsibility for two Qassam rockets fired at southern Israel after the shooting.

The Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, which had previously violated the June 19 truce by firing rockets at Israel, did not say what the militant was doing along the border.

Israeli troops fired at the youth after he did not respond to warning shots and calls to stop, a military spokesman said. The soldiers thought he was armed but, after inspecting the body, found he was not, a spokesman said.

Hamas, the Islamic militant group that rules Gaza, said it considered the pre-dawn shooting a violation of the cease-fire, but did not vow revenge.

Al Aqsa said Hamas police arrested the two militants who fired the two rockets after the shooting.

Observers said the Israeli push into Nablus is undermining the standing of the Palestinian Authority and President Mahmoud Abbas as they try to advance U.S.- facilitated peace negotiations with Israel.

It’s also a blow to Mr. Fayyad, who has spearheaded Palestinian efforts to shut down Islamic groups related to Hamas.

“This is probably the most embarrassing thing that Israel has ever done, not only to Abbas, but also to Fayyad,” said Ghassan Khatib, a former Palestinian Cabinet member and labor minister.

“He has taken the risk of closing many of the [nongovernmental organizations] that are suspected of being linked to Hamas.”

The crackdown is also a test of Hamas’ leadership in Gaza. Hamas initially wanted to link the cease-fire in Gaza to one in the West Bank. The cease-fire does not apply to the West Bank, which is ruled by the rival Palestinian Authority.

Nablus is one of two West Bank towns where the Palestinian Authority has sought to bulk up its police force to restore public order, but the Israeli incursion threatens to undercut the credibility of the police and create sympathy for Hamas.

In addition to closing the mall in Nablus, Israeli troops raided a medical clinic, a TV station, newspaper offices, a mosque and a women’s organization, the Associated Press reported.

The Israeli army also has established a regular presence in the city after midnight.

An army spokesman said the mall is owned by Hamas and profits from the stores go directly to funding terrorist organizations. The Nablus mall has about 50 businesses, including a restaurant, a wedding hall, a clothing store and jewelry shops.

An Israeli army notice posted outside of the mall threatened merchants who stay open with five years in jail.

Shopkeepers have until Aug. 15 to relocate their businesses, according to the Israeli army. A spokesman for the Israeli army said that in regions where the Palestinian police haven’t fought terrorism to a satisfactory level, the Israeli Defense Forces could intervene.

cThis article is based in part on wire service reports.

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