NABLUS, West Bank — A young Palestinian who defied curfew to pray in a mosque was killed by Israeli soldiers in this hillside city Saturday as the army continued its West Bank raids in search of suspected militants.
Tareq el Kharaz, 24, was shot outside a mosque in the Old City, witnesses said. It was the second day of curfew in Nablus, known for its soap, candy and militant Palestinian activists. The army said the man had died in an exchange of fire.
By late Saturday, hundreds of Palestinians had been detained in raids on four West Bank cities and villages, and more than 59 were in Israeli custody.
The raids came as attempts to nudge the region back toward negotiations continued Saturday. Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat met European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana and Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman. A day earlier, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon met U.S. Assistant Secretary of State William Burns. No new peace initiatives have emerged.
A hot, eerie quiet covered the streets of Nablus at midday. In contrast to the fighting that ensued when Israeli tanks moved into this town in early April, this weekend's raids met only scattered and weak opposition--a sign that Israel's renewed strategy of dismantling Palestinian militant bands with quick, hard attacks is taking a toll.
"The first strike made our resistance weak," a veteran activist from the Fatah movement, who spoke on condition he not be named, said Saturday. "The resistance is trying to rebuild its internal situation."
Roads to Nablus were choked shut Saturday by concrete blocks, hastily dug ditches and clusters of Israeli soldiers. The streets were lined with shuttered pharmacies and apartments, locked cafes and deserted stoops. Small fires blazed in the empty streets near An Najah University.
On the outskirts of town, soldiers sealed off streets and searched homes in the Balata refugee camp. The camp is the birthplace and stronghold of the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, a militant Palestinian group that is affiliated with Fatah and claims responsibility for many of the suicide bombings and shooting attacks on Israeli civilians.
"This time, the Israelis are arresting anyone who they even think might resist them," the Fatah activist said. Many of the Al Aqsa leaders have been slain or jailed, he said, and their absence has splintered the group.
Elsewhere in the West Bank, Israeli soldiers used explosives to blow down doors in the village of Tamoun.
For the third day in a row, troops rolled into Bethlehem before sunrise to pluck a suspect from the neighboring Dahaisha refugee camp. Israeli tanks also stormed the town of Tulkarm.
Palestinians say the raids are excessive, oppressive measures that prove Israel's unwillingness to negotiate a peace settlement. The Israeli government argues that it must dismantle the militant organizations to save itself from Palestinian attacks.
"Israel's position is that cessation of terror, violence and incitement and a thorough reform of the Palestinian Authority were conditions for progress in the diplomatic process," a statement from Sharon's office said.
But in a land of perpetual violence, strings of vengeance can be hard to cut.
The refugee camp here is a portrait of revenge: On May 22, Israeli soldiers in Balata killed Mahmoud Titi, one of the area's Al Aqsa leaders. Five days later, Jihad Titi walked up to an ice cream parlor outside Tel Aviv and blew himself up to avenge his cousin's death. Ruth Peled, 56, and her 18-month-old granddaughter, Sinai Keinan, were killed in the attack.
On Friday, Israeli troops in Balata dealt another blow in the feud. Soldiers ordered surviving Titi family members to abandon their house, then blasted it to bits with explosives.
The daily hit-and-run strikes on the Palestinian territories lack the magnitude of recent warfare, but the crackdown has managed to exert steady pressure nonetheless.
Israeli troop movements are as frequent as they are unpredictable. Ditches, concrete barricades and impromptu checkpoints appear overnight to block routes through Palestinian territories, paralyzing first one town, then another. "Nobody can get in, and nobody can get out," a Nablus security official said Saturday.
Of all the West Bank cities, this sloping landscape of mosques and crumbling ruins suffered the worst damage during Israel's April campaign. In a relentless attack, Israeli shells blew ancient Nablus buildings to dust and pebbles.
"From age 17, they are preparing to be martyrs. They are running toward that," the Fatah activist said. "[Israelis] are dreaming if they think they think they can finish the martyrs."