Israel closes Palestinian universities

Israel today shut down two West Bank universities as two Palestinians were killed in clashes and Israeli troops sealed the homes of four Jerusalem Arabs responsible for killing 35 people, including five Americans, in bombings.

In Hebron, the army closed the Islamic University and Polytechnic Institution as part of its response to the Tel Aviv bombing earlier this month in which 22 people were killed. An iron bar closed the gate of the Polytechnic where troops surrounded the school and imposed a curfew on the neighbourhood.

Later, stone-throwing clashes erupted between students and troops, who fired rubber-coated metal bullets at the demonstrators.

In fresh West Bank violence, two Palestinians were killed, one in a clash and one a mentally ill bystander caught in the crossfire of a gun battle between soldiers and Palestinian gunmen, the army and Palestinian officials said.

Violence has been escalating in the West Bank and Gaza Strip ahead of the Israeli general election on 28 January.

In the Silwan neighborhood of east Jerusalem, troops and police gathered around one of the convicted bombers’ homes and began sealing off the structure. Officials said the house would later be blown up. The other three homes will be filled with concrete to make them uninhabitable, police said.

Israel demolishes the homes of militants and suicide bombers in an attempt to deter other Palestinians from carrying out attacks on Israelis. Palestinians condemn the measure as collective punishment and a violation of international law.

In Tulkarem, troops entered the refugee camp to arrest militants, the army said. Fierce gun battles and stone-throwing clashes erupted at the entrance to the camp, Palestinian witnesses said.

A Palestinian militant detonated six bombs at the incoming soldiers, who fired on him and killed him, the army said. Mouhi Aldin Hamza, aged 16, was killed in the clash, Palestinian hospital officials said, but it was unclear if he was the militant the army was referring to.

In the village of Kabatiya near Jenin, Israeli troops surrounded a building where two militants belonging to the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, a group affiliated with Yasser Arafat’s Fatah movement, were hiding and demanded they surrender, Palestinian witnesses said.

A fierce gun battle erupted between the soldiers and the gunmen, and a 42-year-old bystander was killed, witnesses and hospital officials said. Relatives said Ribhi Zakarna was mentally ill. At the end, the two gunmen surrendered and were arrested by the troops, the witnesses said.

In the West Bank town of Jenin, soldiers held a 12-hour stand off with four wanted Palestinian militants, the army and Palestinian officials said. The men, prominent members of the Jenin branch of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, finally surrendered and were taken into custody, the officials said.

Gun battles erupted sporadically between the soldiers and the gunmen and at least one soldier was slightly wounded, the army said.

More than 20 suspected Palestinian militants were arrested in West Bank sweeps overnight, the army said. Israel has reoccupied nearly every major West Bank Palestinian city and town, except Jericho, since June. Soldiers often impose curfew and conduct mass arrests in the areas.