By ALI DARAGHMEH
Associated Press Writer
NABLUS, West Bank (AP) - Dozens of Israeli jeeps and armored vehicles poured into Nablus overnight Sunday, placing large areas of the city under curfew and conducting house-to-house arrest raids in one of the largest West Bank military operations in months.
The army also took over local television and radio stations, ordering people to remain indoors and warning residents that the clampdown would remain in effect for several days, Palestinian residents said. Two soldiers and several Palestinians were lightly wounded in clashes, officials said.
An Israeli military spokesman said the operation was aimed at countering ``terrorist threats'' in Nablus. The raid came a day after Israeli troops discovered an explosives laboratory in the city. Nablus, the West Bank's largest city and commercial center, is known as a stronghold of Palestinian militants.
Palestinian officials condemned the raid, saying it threatened President Mahmoud Abbas' efforts to restart peace talks with Israel.
Abbas held a rare meeting last week with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Although little progress was made at the meeting, participants said they discussed the possibility of extending a cease-fire in the Gaza Strip to the West Bank.
``We condemn this military incursion,'' said Saeb Erekat, a confidant to Abbas. ``This will undermine the efforts that are being made to sustain the cease-fire with Israel.''
The Israeli forces began moving into Nablus about 3 a.m. and continued to move in for several hours, Palestinian witnesses said. They said about 80 military vehicles, along with several bulldozers, were in the city.
The bulldozers erected huge piles of rubble to block movement on main roads, witnesses said. The main entrance to the city also was closed.
The operation was focused on Nablus' Old City, or casbah, a densely populated area of narrow alleyways, apartment buildings and markets. About 50,000 people were placed under curfew, residents said.
Soldiers moved from door to door, entering homes in search of suspects.
At one point, nervous soldiers forced a Palestinian youth to lead a small group of soldiers up some stairs and into a home ahead of the forces. The soldiers then took the youth, along with several young Palestinian men, into a military vehicle. A group of young boys peeked out from the window of a neighboring building.
Israel's Supreme Court in 2005 banned the practice of using Palestinian civilians as ``human shields,'' though the army challenged the decision. The army had no immediate comment on Sunday's incident, which was filmed by AP Television News.
While the operation largely shut down Nablus, sporadic clashes were reported. Soldiers were pelted with stones and cement blocks, and exchanged fire with Palestinian gunmen, the army said, adding that two soldiers were lightly wounded by a Palestinian bomb.
The army responded to the protests with rubber bullets and stun grenades, witnesses said. In one incident, soldiers entered a cemetery to search for Palestinians who had pelted their vehicle with stones.
Palestinian medical officials said four Palestinians were wounded by rubber bullets during Sunday's unrest.
The raid came at a sensitive time for Abbas, a political moderate who is trying to cobble together a unity government with the radical Hamas movement.
Hamas and Abbas' Fatah party reached a power-sharing deal earlier this month in the Muslim holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia, though a new government has not yet been formed.
Abbas says the arrangement has forced Hamas to moderate its violently anti-Israel ideology and should pave the way for the lifting of international sanctions imposed on the current Hamas-led government.
Israel and Western donor nations have not yet made a decision on lifting the sanctions, but they have warned the agreement falls short of international demands to renounce violence and recognize Israel's right to exist.
In the Gaza Strip, Hamas officials said the Israeli raid was undermining the Palestinian unity efforts.``We question why these military campaigns are increasing now,'' said Ghazi Hamad, spokesman for the Hamas-led government. ``This indicates the Israeli government is trying to turn what was agreed upon in Mecca into a failure.''