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17-01-03, 12:27
JERUSALEM - The Israeli army has stepped up arrests of suspected Palestinian militants in the West Bank ahead of Israel's general election, military sources said on Friday.
The army did not say why the number of arrests had increased but many Israelis fear Palestinian militants could try to disrupt the January 28 election with attacks.

The army has rounded up scores of people in the past three days and has made about 30 arrests each day since Tuesday, one of the sources said.

The army has regularly carried out sweeps for militants to try to quell a more than 27-month-old Palestinian uprising for an independent state, but the sources said the number of arrests in the past few days had been unusually high.

"It is an unusually large number, because the opportunity to make the arrests was there and was taken," a military source said. But he added that the army was always on high alert.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's right-wing Likud Party leads opinion polls. He has taken a tough stance on the Palestinian uprising and rules out peace talks until the violence ends.

Amram Mitzna, the leader of the center-left Labor Party, favors holding negotiations even if the violence does not end.

In a separate development, the army said a naval gunboat had fired Friday at what appeared to be an unmanned, booby-trapped raft about four km (2.5 miles) off the Gaza coast. It exploded but there were no reports of casualties, a military source said.

Gaza residents heard the blast several kilometers away.


17-01-03, 12:39