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Israeli Troops Crack Down on Nablus

28 February 2007

Israeli forces have killed two senior members of Islamic Jihad, a Palestinian militant group responsible for recent suicide bombings in Israel. VOA's Jim Teeple reports from Jerusalem, Israeli forces also moved large numbers of troops back into the West Bank city of Nablus, after a partial withdrawal on Tuesday.

Israeli forces are stepping up their pressure on Islamic Jihad. Israeli commandoes ambushed a car carrying Ashraf al-Saadi, the Islamic Jihad commander in the West Bank, killing him and another senior member of the group as well as the driver of the car. The incident took place near Jenin in the West Bank.

The group claimed responsibility for a failed suicide bombing last week in Tel Aviv, and a suicide bombing in January in the resort city of Eilat that killed three Israelis.

Large numbers of Israeli forces also re-entered the downtown commercial sector of the West Bank city of Nablus after local residents reported Israeli forces had withdrawn from the area Tuesday.

Major Avital Leibovich says more suicide bombers come from Nablus than anywhere else.

"We have discovered over the course of years that Nablus has become a terror hub," he said. "For instance in the past six months we have uncovered 11 explosive belts. Nine of them came out of Nablus."

"We have a problem here and we are doing everything we can to prevent those ticking bombs inside Nablus from reaching population centers inside Israel," he added.

Palestinian officials in Nablus say Israeli incursions during the past few days, and a curfew on the city have severely hurt the city's economy. They say several factories which manufacture the city's main commodity - soap - have been destroyed.

Speaking in the Gaza Strip, Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, a leading Hamas militant, condemned the stepped up Israeli military activity in the West Bank.

Haniyeh says the international community should intervene to stop the Israeli action.

Meanwhile, in an interview with an Egyptian government newspaper, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas says he wants the United States to give him more time to form a unity government acceptable to the international community.

Mr. Abbas' Fatah Party and Hamas agreed recently to a power sharing agreement, as a way of ending sanctions on the Palestinian government.

But the deal has been largely rejected by the international community because any new government that is formed is not bound to recognize Israel, renounce violence or fully accept past peace agreements between Israel and the Palestinians.

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