Israeli forces arrested 52 Islamic Jihad militants in the biggest West Bank sweep since the truce began four months ago, reports CBS News Correspondent Robert Berger. The raids follow a wave of deadly Islamic Jihad attacks, and came ahead of a rare summit Tuesday between Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas. They'll discuss coordinating Israel's planned pullout from Gaza, set to begin in just two months.
Abbas has promised to prevent Palestinian militants from firing on Israeli soldiers and settlers as they withdraw, but Sharon doubts that Abbas can deliver.
In other developments:
The sweep followed a rash of deadly attacks by the militant group on Israeli targets in recent days. The spike in violence has threatened recent efforts to coordinate Israel's planned withdrawal from the Gaza Strip with the Palestinians, and stoked fears that a renewed chance for peacemaking might be lost.
After Palestinian militants declared an informal cease-fire early this year, Israel agreed to go after only those on the brink of carrying out attacks.
But with Islamic Jihad stepping up its activities this week, killing two Israelis, the military decided it will no longer limit its operations to "ticking bombs," but will go after anyone affiliated with the group, said Lt. Col. Erez Winner, a senior Israeli commander in the West Bank.
"We operated against this group in a restrained manner," he said, both to preserve the calm and because many members of Islamic Jihad were hiding in Tulkarem, a West Bank town that Israeli handed over to Palestinian police as part of the cease-fire.
But "Islamic Jihad has taken itself absolutely out of the (cease-fire) agreement with its attacks, and so from our view, we are operating fully against them, as we did before," Winner said. "Anyone we know who is affiliated with this organization is a legitimate target."
He said he didn't foresee more mass arrests, because the overnight sweep netted many of the militants Israel has been watching.
Islamic Jihad is the smaller of the two main militant groups in the Gaza Strip and West Bank. In addition to this week's violence, the group carried out the deadliest single attack since the truce declaration, a Feb. 25 bombing of a Tel Aviv nightclub that killed five Israelis.
The larger militant group, Hamas, has been relatively quiet as it tries to cement a political following ahead of Palestinian legislative elections later this year.
Palestinian official Saeb Erekat said the Palestinian attacks and Israeli arrests endangered the cease-fire, and "have really cast a dark cloud over the summit."
"I want to condemn the cycle of violence that preceded the anticipated summit today," Erekat said. "The Israeli arrests this morning will not add anything to sustaining the quiet."
The Abbas-Sharon meeting followed a visit to the region just a few days ago by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who tried to bolster prospects for a successful Sharon-Abbas meeting and a peaceful pullout.
In Washington, U.S. officials called on Abbas to take action against militants.
"We strongly condemn the terror actions of the last several days, directed at taking the lives of Israelis and sabotaging efforts for peace," State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said Monday. "Now is the time for the Palestinian Authority to act against terrorists."