IDF uncovers large explosive labs as operations continue in Nablus

The army continued counter-terror operations in Nablus and nearby refugee camps, uncovering and destroying two large explosive factories there yesterday. A number of Palestinians suspected of involvement in terrorist activities were arrested, including four women students from Nablus's An-Najah University. One of the women was detained with an explosive belt in her possession.

Israeli troops entered the Nablus-area Bet-Alma'a refugee camp Monday morning, and rounded up male residents between the ages of 15 and 50 for questioning. Most of the men were released soon afterwards, Israel Radio reported.

A curfew was imposed on Kalkilya overnight and tanks and armored personnel carriers entered the city, eyewitnesses said. Four suspected militants were arrested at a checkpoint outside the city, and three others were arrested near El Bireh. The army said it had fresh evidence that terrorists were in Kalkilya and Bet-Alma'a, Ha'aretz reported.

During searches in the Balata refugee camp, southeast of Nablus, a large bomb factory was uncovered in the house of Mahmud Titi, head of the al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade in the area who was killed in an IDF operation on May 22. The army said it found in the lab twelve gas cylinders, two cone charges, a projectile (anti-tank) charge, hundreds of pipe bombs and many explosives including large quantities of potassium and dozens of containers of liquids and acids.

Titi was responsible for the deaths of at least 11 Israelis in terror attacks he planned, participated in, or dispatched suicide bombers to carry out. After he was killed by Israeli tank fire in the cemetery outside Balata, his cousin Jihad perpetrated the suicide bombing in Petach Tikva, killing two Israelis and wounding nearly 50 others.

The bomb factory in Titi's house, considered one of the largest discovered so far in the West Bank, was blown up by Israeli troops in a controlled explosion.

A second explosives lab was discovered Sunday night inside a restaurant, a few feet away from a Palestinian Navy facility in the west of Nablus. The army said it found an explosive belt ready for detonation, mortar shells, bags of TATP explosives, switches made for detonating explosive belts, explosives and barbwire. An IDF Engineering Corps force blew up the lab.

Among the nine Palestinians arrested in the Raffidiya neighborhood of Nablus were four Palestinian women in their early 20s. Two are suspected of planning to perpetrate a suicide bombing and one had in her possession an explosive belt, Israel Radio reported.

Meanwhile, preparations were made to deport eight foreign nationals, including two American citizens, who were detained by the army over the weekend in the Balata refugee camp. The eight, members of pro-Palestinian groups, said they went to the camp "as part of a humanitarian mission to observe and, as necessary, act as a human shield to protect Palestinian civilians who were in danger from Israeli forces." The army said they had violated orders and entered a closed military zone.

The ongoing operation in Nablus was the biggest since the end of Operation Defensive Shield, Yediot Aharonot reported. Paratroopers and Golani troops, along with armored and engineering corps units, have been active in the city since Friday. In addition, special experienced troops have been employed to cut walls between homes, to protect soldiers from Palestinian snipers.

Senior military sources told Yediot Aharonot that it was still not clear how long Israeli forces would remain in Nablus. At Sunday's cabinet meeting, Shin Bet head Avi Dichter said that the IDF should remain in Area A until buffer zones were constructed to prevent Palestinian infiltrations into Israel. Dichter's opinion, which is shared by IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Shaul Mofaz, was rejected by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, who both believe the IDF should continue to enter Palestinian-controlled territories based on intelligence reports, and leave once it completes its counter-terrorist operations.

Ellis Shuman Israelinsider

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