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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Israelis Blockade West Bank Palestinians

RAMALLAH, West Bank -- Israeli troops confined more than 1 million Palestinians in the West Bank to their communities Tuesday and sealed homes of Islamic militants whose campaign of bombings has terrorized Israel and shaken the peace process.


Soldiers raided a West Bank village, herding all men into the main square, and Prime Minister Shimon Peres said he would imprison relatives of the bombers without benefit of trial.


The military wing of the Moslem militant group Hamas said it will heed a call by its political leaders to stop the attacks for now. Four bombings over the past 10 days that killed at least 57 people and wounded more than 200 were claimed by those linked to the group.


But with increasing numbers of Israelis clamoring for the militants to be crushed, there appeared scant hope for an end to the violence.


On Tuesday, angry Israelis buried the victims of the previous day's attack, in which an Islamic militant blew himself up outside Tel Aviv's main shopping mall, killing 13 people, half of them children.


Security sources estimate the bomb contained 14 to 20 kilograms of TNT, plus nails for greater deadliness, carried in an army rucksack the bomber held in his hand.


The latest bombing forced Israel's beleaguered government to abandon its policy of reacting to attacks in a defensive way.


Peres, his popularity plummeting with elections less than three months away, authorized security services to "act in every place to strike against and punish" attackers.


On Tuesday, thousands of troops set up roadblocks around 465 West Bank communities -- most of them nomi Israel did not re-enter the seven West Bank towns now fully under PLO control. Under the Israel-PLO accords, Palestinian police patrol the rural areas the Israeli soldiers entered Tuesday, but Israel retains overall control.


Even so, the army's actions threatened to badly discredit Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat -- and the peace plan.


"This goes completely against the agreement," Arafat protested Tuesday.


Israel's top commander in the West Bank, Major General Ilan Biran, said Israel has arrested 102 suspected militants and warned it planned to shut down West Bank academic institutions and community centers considered breeding grounds for terrorism.


Peres also announced that Israel will not pull out of Hebron -- the last West Bank town yet to be transferred to the Palestinians, which Israel planned to leave this month -- until the PLO amends its covenant to revoke calls for Israel's destruction.


Israeli President Ezer Weizman called for a "major strike" against Hamas. "In war, you attack ... In a short time, we must see impressive activity in order to stamp out this plague."


Yossi Beilin, the cabinet minister who coordinates the peace process, insisted the agreements with the PLO must be preserved. "We have to go together. I don't see any alternative to this process," he said.


But across Israel on Tuesday, the mood was glum and militant. Hundreds of demonstrators scuffled with police and shouted slogans against the government outside Dizengoff Center, the mall targeted by Monday's attack.


"We tried, God knows we tried. We tried to make peace. We were ready to pay a high price ... despite the fears, despite the warnings," wrote Yosef Lapid in the daily Maariv. But after the latest carnage, he wrote, "This is it."


In autonomous Gaza, Hamas' military wing, Izzedine al Qassam, said it would heed the call of its own political leaders and stop its suicide bombings in Israel until early July.


"We will not be responsible from now on for such attacks inside the Zionist entity," promised Izzedine al Qassam in a leaflet.


But the group has offered truces before, only to see offshoots carry out attacks. And under the terms of the proposed truce, it will only hold if Israel does not crack down on Hamas for its bombing war.


Still, by pushing the peace process to the brink of collapse and bringing on Israeli retaliation, Hamas appears to be losing ground among Palestinians, whose hopes of seeing the peace process led to an independent state of their own could be over if Israel's right-wing opposition wins the upcoming elections.


In Bethlehem's Manger Square Tuesday, several hundred Palestinians gathered to hear Arafat issue an appeal via a telephone hookup: "I want your help in proving that the only way the Palestinians choose is the way of peace."


But even as he spoke, a group of schoolchildren passed by, issuing chanting calls on Hamas to "bomb, bomb Tel Aviv."


In Washington, U.S. President Bill Clinton sent highly sophisticated bomb-detection equipment and technical experts to Israel to help battle the wave of terrorism.


Clinton said he took the action to "support the fight against future terrorist attacks, to bring killers to justice and to rally support for peace in the Middle East." A planeload of equipment assembled by the CIA left for Israel on Tuesday. Officials were secretive about the contents, saying they did not want to tip off terrorists about what to expect.


Clinton condemned the bombings, saying: "These are desperate and fanatic acts aimed not just at killing innocent people, including innocent children, but at killing the growing prospects for peace in the Middle East. They must not succeed."


?Israel's Arab peace partners Egypt and Jordan condemned the suicide bombing in Tel Aviv, fearful the blast could shatter hard-won advances towards Middle East peace, Reuters reported from Cairo.


Echoing these fears, Kuwait, Oman and Bahrain which have slowly been accepting links with the Jewish state also expressed regret, but there was no official from Saudi Arabia, the Gulf region's main power.


Syria, whose tortuous peace negotiations with Israel were at least temporarily blown off course by the explosion as Israel ordered its team back from scheduled talks in the United States, also refrained from direct comment on the carnage.