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Over 120 Palestinians Arrested in Israeli Sweep of West Bank Town - 2003-06-24

Israeli forces have arrested more than 120 Palestinians, in a sweep of the West Bank town, Hebron. The operation comes amid indications an agreement on an Israeli troop withdrawal from several Palestinian areas may be near.

The troops moved into Hebron, shortly before dawn, and began rounding up what Israel says ae members of the Palestinian militant group Hamas. The raid comes just days after an operation in Hebron in which Israeli soldiers shot and killed senior Hamas official Abdullah Quwasemeh.

Israeli troops also moved into Nablus, where they clashed with Palestinian gunmen, before closing off the central market area of the town. Israeli forces also demolished a house in Jenin that belonged to a man involved in a suicide bombing, four months ago.

In the Gaza Strip, Palestinian militants fired a rocket toward Israel, but it struck an uninhabited area, causing no damage or injuries.

A senior advisor to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said Tuesday's operation could help the Palestinian Authority. Zalman Shoval told British radio the action meant Palestinian police would not have to arrest the militants -- something that would be difficult for them to do, politically.

Palestinians say the operation is no help at all and only works to undermine efforts now underway to negotiate a ceasefire with Hamas and other militant Palestinian groups.

Palestinian security chief Mohammad Dahlan has given his Israeli counterpart, General Amos Gilad, a list of conditions for Palestinians to take over security in the Gaza Strip and Bethlehem. Officials say the Palestinians want Israeli forces to completely withdraw from both areas. They also want Israel to stop targeted assassinations of Palestinian militants and incursions into Palestinian territories.

Israel has said it will only withdraw from Gaza if Palestinians can guarantee security there.

The two sides are expected to meet again today.