Israeli Troops Round Up Palestinian Men in Nablus' Refugee Camp

Israeli troops rolled into a refugee camp on the edge of Nablus on Friday, rounding up hundreds of Palestinian men, imposing a curfew and blowing up the home of a homicide bomber.

Just a few miles from Nablus, a Palestinian gunman was shot dead after infiltrating a Jewish settlement.

The confrontations came as diplomats converged on the region, looking for ways to end, or at least reduce, 20 months of Mideast violence. But no new peace initiatives have emerged.

In recent weeks, Israeli forces have been staging raids on Palestinian towns and villages, most of them lasting only a few hours, as the soldiers search for weapons, explosives and suspected militants.

The almost daily Israeli forays into Palestinian territory, which once drew widespread international criticism, now produce little reaction, aside from Palestinian condemnations.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon on Friday met Assistant Secretary of State William Burns and Osama el-Baz, adviser to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. CIA Director George Tenet was expected in the region over the weekend.

Sharon's office said he emphasized "Israel's position that cessation of terror, violence and incitement and a thorough reform of the Palestinian Authority were conditions for progress in the diplomatic process."

The United States has proposed an international conference on the Mideast this summer to revive the peace process, but with ongoing fighting, no date has been set.

Javier Solana, the European Union foreign policy chief, who was also visiting the region, said, "we are working as hard as necessary to make it come about in the second half of July."

The Israeli troops entered Nablus and the adjacent Balata refugee camp in dozens of tanks and armored personnel carriers, saying the incursion was carried out "in the wake of recent murderous attacks."

The camp is a stronghold of the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, a militia that has carried out many deadly attacks, and which is linked to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement.

Arafat, speaking in Ramallah, denounced the incursion, saying, "this is Israel's message to the whole world, and proof they do not want to reach any agreement or any political settlement."

Israeli tanks fired on the Balata camp May 22, killing Mahmoud Titi, the Al Aqsa leader in the area. On Monday, his cousin Jihad Titi carried out a homicide attack in Israel, killing an Israeli woman and her 18-month-old granddaughter.

Israeli troops on Friday detonated explosives, blowing up the house of 18-year-old Jihad Titi, after ordering members of his family living there to leave.

In the camp, soldiers used loudspeakers to call on Palestinian males, ages 15 to 45, to turn themselves in. Hundreds of Palestinians walked through the dusty streets, their hands raised or clasped behind their heads, to an open area near a factory at the front of the camp.

As the Israelis checked the identities of the men, some were blindfolded and handcuffed.

Soldiers also went house to house in the camp. In some instances, they broke through interior walls to go from one house to the next, rather than walk in the streets, where they would be exposed to snipers, residents said.

One Palestinian man was seriously wounded by Israeli gunfire, hospital doctors said.

In the city of Nablus, Palestinians set off two mines under Israeli tanks, and the tanks fired several shells, knocking out electricity in the eastern part of the city.

The Israeli incursion kept Palestinians off the streets. Soldiers went to a number of homes looking for militants and arrested about 10 suspects, including Issam Abu Bakr, a local Fatah leader, Palestinians said.

The Israeli military said a curfew was imposed in Nablus and the refugee camp and that the operation was continuing.

Nablus, which has close to 200,000 residents, was the scene of heavy fighting when the Israel troops occupied the city for a week in early April. More than 70 Palestinians were killed and ancient parts of the city were destroyed.

Also Friday, a Palestinian cut through a fence and infiltrated the Jewish settlement of Shavei Shomron, north of Nablus. He was shot and killed by a settler, the military said.

Soldiers also arrested 23 Palestinians in the Gaza Strip on Thursday and Friday, mostly at roadblocks, the military added. In two instances, the army arrested armed suspects they believed were on their way to carry out attacks — including one man who was disguised as a woman, said Lt. Col. Erez Katz.