- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 3, 2002

NABLUS, West Bank The Israeli army blew up two buildings containing explosives labs and arrested at least 50 Palestinians in house-to-house searches yesterday as troops took control of Nablus, a city Israel called "the main factory of suicide bombings."

The army clashed with Palestinians in several places in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, and overall, five Palestinians were killed, including an elderly woman, and seven houses and buildings were destroyed.

Also, the military said it planned to expel two relatives of suspected Palestinian militants from their homes in the West Bank to the Gaza Strip a transfer Israel hopes will deter potential attackers.

The stepped-up Israeli military actions follow a series of Palestinian attacks against Israel, including a bombing Wednesday at Jerusalem's Hebrew University that killed five Americans and two Israelis.

"There's been a train of Palestinian terrorism that's been hitting Israel over the past week to 10 days, and what we've been able to discern is that its hub is in Nablus," said Israeli government spokesman Dore Gold. Nablus has replaced nearby Jenin "as the main factory of suicide bombings against Israel," he said.

Nablus, the largest city in the West Bank with about 200,000 people, has been under an Israeli military curfew for most of the past six weeks, along with other Palestinian population centers.

Residents of Nablus defied the curfew from Monday to Wednesday, and life regained a semblance of normalcy as Palestinians returned to the streets and Israeli forces remained in armored vehicles parked on the outskirts of the city.

However, the military reinforced the curfew Thursday and a convoy of more than 100 tanks and armored personnel carriers rolled into Nablus about 2 a.m. yesterday. Shortly afterward, soldiers began working their way on foot through the narrow alleyways of the Old City. In exchanges of fire, two Palestinian gunmen were killed, witnesses said.

The Palestinian suspects were handcuffed and blindfolded before being taken from Nablus on army buses.

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat called the Israeli operation "a new massacre" and appealed for U.N. intervention. "I need an answer from the whole United Nations: Is this acceptable?" he said at his headquarters in Ramallah.

Outside Nablus, in the village of Salem, Israeli soldiers surrounded the house of a Hamas activist, 28-year-old Amjad Jubur, and shot him dead, both sides said.

Israel has revived its policy of demolishing houses that belong to the families of Palestinians who attack Israel, and two homes were torn down yesterday in the West Bank.

In Hebron, Israeli forces blew up a three-story house belonging to the family of a Palestinian who carried out an attack in Jerusalem last November, the military said. In Tulkarm, soldiers destroyed the home of a Hamas gunman who opened fire in the Israeli coastal city of Netanya in March 2001, killing three.

In the Gaza Strip, one Palestinian was killed and two wounded in exchanges of fire after midnight, when Israeli troops destroyed three structures along the border with Egypt, residents said.

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