Israeli forces on the occupied West Bank raided the Nablus city hall, Wednesday, in the latest move in a wide-ranging crackdown against the Islamist Hamas movement in cities across the West Bank. VOA's Jim Teeple has details from our Jerusalem Bureau.
In the past week, Israeli troops have raided municipal buildings and shut down schools charities and health clinics on the West Bank that Israel says have ties to Hamas. Tuesday, Israeli troops shut down the largest shopping center in Nablus, saying any businesses that did not vacate the building would have their assets seized.
Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev says the crackdown is aimed at stopping Hamas from expanding its operations beyond the Gaza Strip, which Hamas seized last year in a violent takeover - ousting forces loyal to moderate Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
"We are trying to contain the Hamas infrastructure on the West Bank," Regev said. "Hamas does not seek to control just Gaza. They want to expand their reach and what we are trying to do is limit that. They have all sorts of societies where they use control over civilian facilities to strengthen their terrorist control."
As part of the crackdown, Israel's defense minister recently signed an order banning 36 charities from operating in areas Israel controls. The order allows legal action to be taken against banks or individuals that fund the charities. Israeli officials say Hamas receives as much as $120 million a year from such charities, which raise much of their money overseas.
Israel, the United States and the European Union consider Hamas a terrorist organization for its refusal to recognize Israel or renounce violence. However, many Palestinians benefit from the schools, medical clinics and food distribution centers that Hamas runs. Hani al-Masri is a political analyst and independent journalist in the West Bank city, Ramallah. He says the latest crackdown by Israel will likely only increase support for Hamas.
"Because Israel is the occupation, and the occupation when it closes these institutions it closes the institutions that gives the Palestinian people medicine, education et cetera," al Masri said.
Hani al-Masri says the Israeli crackdown on Hamas on the West Bank could also end up hurting the moderate Palestinian government of Mahmoud Abbas.
"It shows the Palestinian Authority in a very bad picture," he said. "It is makes them look something like the tool behind the occupation. It is not very good for President Abbas. It is very bad for him and for the Palestinian Authority."
Israeli officials say their actions are in no way intended to undermine the authority of President Abbas, but are necessary to stop potential attacks against Israelis.
Mark Regev says the Israeli crackdown against Hamas on the West Bank should have no effect on the recent Egyptian-brokered truce between Israel and Hamas in Gaza.
"Absolutely no! The understandings reached with Egypt to reach calm in the South (Gaza) are explicit. They do not include the West Bank and Israel has the right and freedom of action in the West Bank," Regev stressed.
The Israeli actions on the West Bank are not only being condemned by Hamas supporters there, but also by senior officials of the moderate Palestinian government of President Abbas. Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad Wednesday called the raids extremely disruptive, saying they undermine efforts to establish law and order in areas under the control of the Palestinian Authority.