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Israel Steps Up Operations in West Bank, Gaza - 2002-05-22

Israeli troops mounted simultaneous operations in the West Bank and Gaza Strip Wednesday. Soldiers cut the Gaza Strip in half, blocking the main north-south road, and they rounded up hundreds of men in a West Bank town as they searched for suspected Palestinian militants.

Israeli army military checkpoints in the Gaza Strip are aimed at halting Palestinian mortar attacks against Jewish settlements and arms smuggling operations between the northern and southern parts of the strip.

An army spokesman said that in cases of humanitarian need, Palestinians bearing special permits would be allowed to pass through the barriers. In the south of the Gaza Strip, Israeli forces fired at two Palestinians whom they say attempted to smuggle arms into Israel across the Egyptian border at Rafah.

Israeli troops also took control of the Palestinian town of Salfit in the West Bank, in what the military called an operation in search of militants.

Witnesses have said dozens of Israeli tanks entered the town, shortly before daybreak, accompanied by ground troops as a helicopter hovered overhead. The forces took control of a number of buildings and set up positions inside them.

The raid began just hours before a Palestinian suicide bombing attack against Israeli border police near the West Bank town of Jenin. The bomber was killed in the blast, but none of the policemen were hurt.