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Israel Arrests 18 in Sweep of West Bank Village - 2001-12-26

Israeli troops swept into a Palestinian village in the West Bank Wednesday, arresting at least 18 people.

Palestinians say Israeli soldiers moved into the village of Azzoun, near the town of Qalqilya, arresting Palestinians including policemen and activists in President Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement.

Under cover of darkness, the troops imposed a curfew and conducted house-to-house searches before withdrawing a few hours later.

No shooting or injuries were reported during the raid.

Israel has accused some members of Fatah's military wing of being involved in attacks on Israelis during the 15-month-old Palestinian uprising against occupation.

Earlier this month, Mr. Arafat called for an end to attacks on Israelis and ordered the arrests of Palestinian militants after a wave of deadly suicide bombings.

Israel has accused Mr. Arafat of failing to arrest the leaders of militant groups and has launched a series of incursions to capture Palestinians.

The village of Azzoun, which is near a cluster of Jewish settlements in the West Bank, is under Palestinian administrate control, but security is directed by the Israeli military.

Meanwhile, the army has announced it is lifting the blockade of the ancient West Bank city of Jericho.

The move means Palestinians will be able to enter and leave Jericho, unlike other populations centers that remain surrounded by Israeli troops.

Israelis say the closures are necessary to prevent attacks by terrorists, while Palestinians charge the travel restrictions are collective punishment that have crippled the economy.

Jericho, which is in the Jordan Valley, is isolated from other Palestinian centers and has been generally peaceful in recent weeks.

At the northern end of the Valley on Tuesday, Israeli soldiers engaged in a battle with armed assailants on the normally quiet border with Jordan. One Israeli soldier and two gunmen were killed.

During the clash Israeli helicopters sprayed the thick underbrush along the border with machine gun fire.

Both governments say all Israeli military operations were inside Israeli territory.