Israeli forces occupied the West Bank town of Nablus early Wednesday in response to an attack on an Israeli kibbutz on Sunday in which five Israelis were killed. The Israeli military is calling the incursion an extensive operation which could last for many days.
Palestinian witnesses said as many as 100 tanks and armored personnel carriers took part in the operation which began under the cover of darkness at about 3:30 a.m. local time. Soldiers went house to house searching for suspected Palestinian militants.
Explosions were also heard in the area, apparently set off by soldiers knocking down doors. Witnesses said tanks sealed off the exits from the Old City in the central part of town.
Israeli officials say more than 30 Palestinians, most of them suspected Hamas militants, were arrested in the incursion which the army says is aimed at terror networks operating in the city.
Israeli armored vehicles fired machine guns and helicopter gunships fired missiles into the town center when the incursion began, but met little resistance. Soldiers also fired into the Balata refugee camp on the eastern side of Nablus. Army spokesmen said the troops were responding to a roadside explosion set off by Palestinians in the area.
Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz is reported to have told military leaders they will be given whatever time is necessary to finish their operation.
Troops have been in and out of West Bank cities on several occasions since the spring. Nablus, which Israel says is a hub for Palestinian suicide bombers, has faced some of the toughest curfews.
Earlier Wednesday, Israeli helicopters fired four missiles on a suspected weapons-making workshop in downtown Gaza City. It was the second such strike on the site in two days. An Israeli army spokesman said the attack was in retaliation for recent mortar and rocket attacks from Gaza aimed at nearby Israeli settlements.
The actions came a day after an Israeli raid on a refugee camp near the West Bank town of Tulkarem in which three Palestinians were arrested and the home of a fourth was destroyed.