- The Washington Times - Monday, December 29, 2003

JERUSALEM — Israeli forces withdrew from the West Bank city of Nablus yesterday after a weeklong operation that resulted in the arrests of dozens of suspected Palestinian militants.

The sweep was one of the largest military raids in the West Bank in recent months, reflecting Israeli policy to pursue militants in the absence of Palestinian efforts to crack down on violent groups.

Nablus residents said the Israeli troops left at dawn, releasing a curfew that had confined many of the 150,000 people in the West Bank’s largest city to their homes for a week.

The searches first concentrated on the Balata refugee camp next to the city, but widened after a suicide bomber from a nearby village blew himself up at a bus stop near Tel Aviv on Thursday, killing four Israelis.

The Israeli military said its operations in Nablus, which officials call a hotbed of terrorist activity, would continue.

Palestinians demand that Israel stop the raids, charging that innocent people are killed or injured and entire cities and towns are subjected to collective punishment in the form of curfews.

The “road map” peace plan requires Israel to halt construction in Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and to remove dozens of settlement outposts put up since 2001.

Settlers said yesterday that they would resist a government order, signed a day earlier, to remove four outposts. Only one of them is populated — Ginnot Arieh, north of Jerusalem, with 25 persons. The other three are dummy settlements consisting of a single trailer or temporary structures.

The Israeli Defense Ministry recently released a list of 43 outposts it said had been removed, but most were of the dummy variety and many were rebuilt after their evacuation.

Oren Brund, the secretary of Ginnot Arieh, said the settlers there would appeal to Israel’s Supreme Court and would oppose the evacuation if the court rules against them.

“The Yesha (Settlers’) Council will bring thousands of people here, and we will not move,” Mr. Brund told Israel Radio.

The Palestinian Authority said the Israeli government order was a “stunt.”

“I think the world is sick and tired of these public-relations stunts — Israelis moving a caravan here and a caravan there,” Palestinian minister Saeb Erekat told reporters in the West Bank city of Ramallah.

In another development, Israeli security officials warned that militant groups are planning a major attack on New Year’s Eve, possibly targeting holy sites, kindergartens, apartment buildings and hospitals.

Police have been told to prepare for an air- or sea-based attack, or a ground assault involving several simultaneous suicide bombings, the officials said, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

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