The Associated Press
October 27, 2008 - 8:00pm

Newly deployed Palestinian security forces smashed down doors, raided homes and rounded up wanted fugitives early Monday, carrying out their first crackdown since taking up positions around this volatile city over the weekend.

Hundreds of men belonging to different Palestinian security forces divided into groups throughout the nearby village of Samoua, holding lists of suspected criminals and loyalists of Hamas.

Dressed in civilian clothing or clad in blue, black, green and khaki uniforms, they barged through the doors of the wanted Palestinians and searched their homes.

The security forces said they rounded up around 50 men during the overnight raid, including about a dozen Hamas loyalists. Hebron police chief Ramadan Awad said the detained men were all "fugitives", but gave no further details.

Monday's raid was the latest step in cautious security cooperation between Israel and the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank.

Both Israel and the Palestinian Authority, led by President Mahmoud Abbas, want to crush Hamas. The Islamic group seized power of the Gaza Strip last year, leaving Abbas in charge only in the West Bank.

The new force was deployed over the weekend after US-supported training. Similar forces are also operating in the areas of Jenin and Nablus in the northern West Bank.

The Hebron force is also responsible for patrolling Palestinian areas of the tense city. Hebron is divided between heavily guarded Jewish enclaves and Arab neighbourhoods.

Hamas accuses the Palestinian Authority of policing the West Bank on behalf of Israel, rather than focusing on fighting the Jewish state for independence.

On Monday, the Hebron governor of Fateh held an unusual press conference with two Hamas men detained by Palestinian security forces in September - to discount claims of Hamas leaders that the two men were transferred to Israel.

"We are being treated well. We are seeing our families," said Wael Bitar, one of the detained Hamas men, wearing civilian clothes and sporting a beard. His wife, daughter and parents sat in the conference room where the press conference was held.

He and another Hamas loyalist Mohammad Aweiwi were arrested on suspicion that they belonged to a Hamas cell hoarding weapons and explosive-making equipment.


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