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April 02, 2003

Israel carries out major roundup of Palestinians

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TULKARM, West Bank, April 2 (Reuters) - Israeli troops rounded up large numbers of Palestinians in the occupied West Bank city of Tulkarm on Wednesday in a fresh sweep for wanted militants.

Soldiers in tanks and armoured vehicles backed by helicopters imposed a curfew and searched homes for militants before telling males aged 14 to 40 to gather in the courtyard of a local school or face punishment, residents told Reuters.

Palestinian witnesses said about 2,000 people were rounded up. The Israeli army said it was about half that number.

At least seven were identified as wanted militants and formally arrested, the army said. Identity checks continued on the others and those not on the wanted list would be quickly freed, it added. Troops were also searching houses for weapons.

It was the largest round-up of Palestinians in Tulkarm 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.

Palestinian militant groups have been waging an independence [sic!] uprising against Israel since September, 2000. Israeli forces have detained thousands of Palestinians in the conflict, many of them in citywide dragnets in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

About 4,800 remained in jail as of early March -- 1,400 serving prison sentences, 1,090 undergoing legal proceedings and some 2,400 in detention without charge, the Israeli human rights group B'tselem said, quoting army and prison figures.


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. It has urged Israel to restrain military operations and called on Palestinians to curb attacks.[more]