TULKAREM (West Bank): Israeli troops rounded up around 2,000 Palestinians here yesterday in a fresh crackdown on suspected militants, local witnesses said.
Soldiers in tanks and armoured vehicles backed by helicopters imposed a curfew and searched homes for militants before telling males aged 14-40 to gather in the courtyard of a local school or face punishment, residents said.
It was the largest round-up of Palestinians here for a year and came after an Islamic militant from a nearby village blew himself up outside a cafe in the Israeli seaside town of Netanya on Sunday, wounding 30 people.
An army spokesman said troops were searching anew for militants involved in a 30-month-old Palestinian uprising against Israel for an independent state, but gave no details.
Israeli forces have arrested thousands of suspected militants during the conflict, many of them in citywide dragnets in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Many have been released within hours but others remain in detention without charge.
The United States, chief mediator in the conflict, is now preoccupied with war in Iraq and facing rising anti-American resentment in the Arab world has urged Israel to restrain military operations, and urged the Palestinians to curb attacks.
Palestinian violence has tailed off somewhat since US and British forces invaded Iraq on March 20 while Israel has eased off on raids against Islamic militants in Gaza.
In response to Sunday's bombing, which the Islamic Jihad said was a gift to the people of Iraq, Israel razed the home of the 19-year-old bomber in a village here on Tuesday.
Yesterday, Israeli forces demolished the Hebron home of a militant who the army said had shot dead an Israeli and carried out many other attacks.
Palestinians and human rights organisations condemn house demolitions as collective punishment, while Israel says the practice is necessary to deter attacks.
Israeli soldiers arrested 11 suspected militants elsewhere in the West Bank yesterday, including three in Bethlehem.
At least 1,959 Palestinians and 727 Israelis have been killed since Palestinian militants rose up in September 2000 after peace negotiations stalled. Reuters