Israelis Raid West Bank Town, Arrest 200 Arabs
In the biggest such operation since the nine-month-old Palestinian uprising began, hundreds of Israeli troops supported by helicopters swept through a West Bank Arab town Tuesday and arrested about 200 residents suspected of anti-government activity.
Military sources described the raid on Qalqiliya, about 15 miles northeast of Tel Aviv, as extraordinary in scale and planning. They said it was in response to an unacceptable level of anti-Israeli violence in the area.
“Qalqiliya sits on a very important road junction,” Maj. Gen. Amram Mitzna, the army’s regional commander, said. “A great deal of traffic and a large number of citizens pass through, and the situation had really become intolerable.”
Mitzna denied reports that the army was responding to a spate of complaints by West Bank Jewish settlers, who have recently stepped up their criticism of the military for failing to stop stone and firebomb attacks on Israeli cars in the area. The settlers have called for a change in army policy to allow soldiers and civilians to fire at rock throwers, effectively treating them as armed terrorists.
“It doesn’t mean we surrendered to the settlers,” Mitzna said. “There was a real need.”
Tuesday’s raid, which began with a pre-dawn curfew and searches through surrounding fields and orchards, was still under way near midnight. Security sources predicted that it could go on through much of today.
Foreign journalists were barred from the town and telephone lines were cut, but Israeli Television showed film Tuesday night of soldiers searching house to house and leading away bound and blindfolded Palestinians. Helicopters circled overhead.
The arrests were made according to lists prepared by Shin Bet, the Israeli equivalent of the FBI, after what officials described as weeks of intelligence gathering. Most of those arrested were reportedly members of Shabiba, the nationalist youth movement that was outlawed earlier this year. Others were said to be militant Islamic fundamentalists.
Television showed knives, hatchets and spikes that were said to be among weapons confiscated in the action. Soldiers also found anti-government leaflets put out by committees that have been organized in most Palestinian refugee camps, towns and villages as a sort of shadow government.