HEBRON, West Bank - Israeli troops rounded up more than 130 Palestinians in sweeps for suspected militants Tuesday, drawing Palestinian charges that Israel was trying to sabotage efforts to reach a cease-fire.
The raids in Nablus and Hebron, the two largest West Bank cities, added to tensions surrounding faltering moves to implement a U.S.-backed "road map" for ending nearly 33 months of Israeli-Palestinian bloodshed.
Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas has been trying to persuade Hamas and other militant groups to call a temporary truce with Israel to end a cycle of violence that has battered the peace plan affirmed at a U.S-led summit on June 4.
Blindfolded and handcuffed Palestinians stand in line at an army base in the West Bank town of Hebron Tuesday June 24, 2003. Israeli forces swept through the city and arrested more than 130 Palestinians, during a roundup focused on the city's Hamas network, the army said. The arrests came just days after Israeli troops shot and killed Hebron's Hamas leader Abdullah Kawasme. (AP Photo/Nasser Shiyoukhi)
Parallel talks between top Israeli and Palestinian security officials ended with no final agreement overnight on a proposed Israeli troop pullback from the northern Gaza Strip and the West Bank town of Bethlehem.
Within hours, Israeli forces launched raids in the West Bank in operations the army said were aimed at "terrorists and their helpers" behind suicide bombings and other attacks on Israelis.
About 130 Palestinians, including suspected militants and people wanted for questioning, were rounded up without resistance in sweeps targeting the Islamic group Hamas in Hebron, an army spokeswoman said. She said five more suspects were arrested in Nablus after clashes with gunmen.
"It is an Israeli madness aimed at undermining any move forward," Palestinian cabinet minister Yasser Abed Rabbo told Reuters. "These arrests are an attempt to sabotage the understanding with Hamas. Israel does not want a cease-fire."
SECURITY TALKS INCONCLUSIVE
The Palestinian Authority says such actions, including Israel's track-and-kill operations against militants, severely undermine its efforts to secure a truce with militants.
But Israel insists it reserves the right to act unless the Palestinians rein in groups led by Hamas, an Islamic faction committed to the Jewish state's destruction.
In the latest talks, Israeli Maj. Gen. Amos Gilad and Palestinian security chief Mohammed Dahlan discussed a U.S.-proposed deal whereby Israeli troops would withdraw from Gaza areas and Bethlehem as a proving ground for the Palestinians' ability to quell militant activity there.
The meeting adjourned after the Palestinians demanded Israeli military measures be curtailed further. Among their demands is an end to Israel's killings of leading militants, free passage for Palestinian traffic on Gaza's main highway and the release of thousands of Palestinian detainees.
"Israel has to realize that only by backing off can it give us the space we need to secure a 'hudna'," a Palestinian official told Reuters, using the Arabic term for a truce.
Despite that, Secretary of State Colin Powell sounded an optimistic note on the road map's prospects Monday.
"I know the Palestinian Authority is hard at work trying to bring into place a cessation of violence on the part of (militants)," he said at the World Economic Forum in Jordan.
U.S. National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice will visit the region for talks with Israeli and Palestinian leaders on Saturday and Sunday, the White House said.
The road map calls for reciprocal measures, including an end to Palestinian violence and dismantling of Jewish settler outposts, paving the way for a Palestinian state by 2005.
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