- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 14, 2002

NABLUS, West Bank In the biggest sweep in months, Israeli troops hunting for militants stormed dozens of homes in this Palestinian city yesterday, ordering residents to line up in the dawn chill as tanks blocked roads and helicopters hovered above.
About 50 Israeli tanks and armored vehicles backed by helicopter gunships also raided the outskirts of Gaza City early today and arrested four men before swiftly pulling out, Palestinian security sources and witnesses said.
Two Palestinian policemen and a local resident were wounded during the raid, the third big incursion into Palestinian cities in successive days.
The sweeps came in response to a weekend attack on Kibbutz Metzer, an Israeli communal farm, by a gunman from the Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade, a militia linked to Mr. Arafat's Fatah group. The gunman fled the scene after killing five persons, including a mother and her two boys.
Israeli officials identified the gunman in the attack as 19-year-old Sirhan Sirhan, who they believe was dispatched by militiamen in Nablus.
The officials initially said they believed he was a distant relative of the assassin by the same name who killed Sen. Robert F. Kennedy in 1968, but later withdrew that claim.
Hundreds of soldiers, backed by about 100 armored vehicles and helicopter gunships, poured into Nablus before dawn yesterday.
It was the biggest sweep in the city since Israel's Defensive Shield operation in April, and military commentators said they expect the operation to go on for many days.
Troops have been in Nablus for most of the past seven months, enforcing curfews and manning checkpoints.
The focus of yesterday's raid were several militant strongholds: the Old City, two neighborhoods near An Najah University as well as the Balata and Askar refugee camps on the outskirts of Nablus. There were sporadic gunfights but no injuries.
Several explosions were heard in Nablus' Old City, or Casbah, apparently set off by soldiers breaking open doors. Tanks sealed all exits from the Casbah, a maze of alleys and underground passages. Troops took over a nearby girls' elementary school as a makeshift base.
In the Raffidiyeh neighborhood near the university, four men and 10 women dressed in traditional Muslim robes were pulled out of their homes. The men were told to face the wall and the women were told to sit on the ground as soldiers checked their identification and questioned them.
Israel declared Nablus a closed military zone, and soldiers barred journalists from taking pictures or talking to those rounded up. The army said 30 militant suspects were arrested in the raid.
Troops also swept into Bir Zeit, a university town north of Ramallah, arresting militant suspects and confining residents to their homes.
In the Gaza Strip, Israeli helicopters fired four missiles on what they said was a weapons workshop in Gaza City early yesterday, the second such strike on the site in two days. The attack demolished a car-repair shop that had been severely damaged in a similar pre-dawn attack Monday.
Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, meanwhile, responded angrily to Israeli Foreign Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's pledge that, if elected prime minister, he would expel him.
"Netanyahu has to remember that I am Yasser Arafat and that this is my land and the land of my grand-grand-grand-grand-grandfathers," Mr. Arafat said.
On Tuesday, Mr. Netanyahu told a convention of the rightist Likud party that, if he became prime minister after Jan. 28 elections, he would make it a priority to oust Mr. Arafat.
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon promised to wage an unrelenting battle against Palestinian militants but distanced himself from Mr. Netanyahu's pledge.


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