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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Israel Rounds Up Palestinian Men

DHEISHEH REFUGEE CAMP, West Bank -- Hands on their heads, hundreds of teenage boys and men lined up silently in the dusty yard of a stone-cutting factory on the outskirts of this refugee camp Monday, waiting to be handcuffed and blindfolded by Israeli soldiers.

Before dawn, soldiers sweeping through the camp had announced over bullhorns, in broken Arabic, that all males in Dheisheh between the ages of 15 and 45 must leave their homes and surrender to Israeli forces. More than 500 were detained, the army said.

A similar scene was played out Monday in the West Bank town of Qalqilya, where witnesses said soldiers assembled hundreds of men in a local school yard. Over the weekend, about 750 Palestinians in the Tulkarem refugee camp in the northern West Bank were detained and questioned at gunpoint, though most have since been released.

In the past two weeks, Israeli soldiers have raided several West Bank refugee camps, which are strongholds for militants. The raids have resulted in heavy Palestinian casualties but have been largely unsuccessful in hunting down wanted militants. The mass arrests seemed to be a new strategy in tracking them down.

The arrests drew criticism from human-rights groups. "It is a totally humiliating and degrading process," said Lior Yavne, spokesman for the Israeli group Betselem.

Israel says the arrests are necessary to stop would-be gunmen and suicide bombers from entering Israel. About 50 of 500 people rounded up Saturday in the Tulkarem camp were wanted by Israel, the army said.

"If for the price of these checks which we are conducting it is possible to prevent even one terrorist attack ... I am prepared to take the criticism," said Raanan Gissin, an aide to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

In Dheisheh, detainees said the gunmen had fled the camp long ago. "We are all civilians," said Kamal Khmais, 25, as soldiers tied his hands.

Hundreds stood in line Monday morning in a school yard in Dheisheh. Soldiers ordered the group of men, including teenagers and fathers, to empty their pockets, putting coins and keys and their belts into plastic bags. Then they were told to take off jackets and shirts, stripping down to their undershirts.

Holding the bag in one hand and their ID cards in the other, they put their hands over their heads. Soldiers patted them down, inspected shoes and legs, lifted T-shirts and collected information from ID cards. They used digital cameras to photograph each face as the men marched forward one by one.

Soldiers then led the group to the dusty yard of a stone-cutting factory, about 2 kilometers away.

The men, some clutching their eyeglasses, had their hands bound with plastic wire. "Hurry up," a soldier barked in Arabic. Then, each man disappeared into a door of the stone factory.

"I am so scared," Abu Sdoud, one of those rounded up, said.

 Israel eased travel restrictions on Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat on Monday. He is no longer confined to the West Bank town of Ramallah.

The move comes ahead of the arrival of U.S. envoy Anthony Zinni, who is trying to end 17 months of fighting.