Text size

Palestinian police confiscated 40 homemade bombs in their first foray in years into the militant center of the West Bank city of Nablus, a senior official said on Saturday - a new sign of Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas' resolve to impose control across the lawless West Bank.

Abbas has recently reinforced the police contingent in Nablus as part of his law-and-order campaign, meant, in part, to dispel Israeli fears about his ability to rein in militants under any future peace deal.

Security forces loyal to Abbas were routed by Islamic Hamas militants who seized control of the Gaza Strip in June.

Nablus, a city of 170,000, is a militant stronghold and one of the few West Bank cities where Hamas has strong support.

Nablus police chief Ahmed Sharkawi said officers seized the homemade bombs, most of them pipe bombs, on Thursday from houses in the Old City, a downtown market area ruled by militants. Police entered the area in coordination with gunmen who belong to a violent offshoot of Abbas' Fatah movement, but did not demand that they disarm, a faction leader said.

"The police and other security forces have seized dozens of suspicious objects and home-made explosive devices...we found more than 100 devices and suspect objects hidden in various places and we have detonated many of them," Sharkawi told reporters.

This raid marked the first time in years that police entered the crowded neighborhood. Much of the Old City has been badly damaged by Israeli raids against Palestinian militants.

Earlier in the week, Palestinian police battled militants loyal to Abbas in the nearby Balata refugee camp in their first major offensive against West Bank gunmen. For years police had not dared to enter the four refugee camps in and around Nablus, much as they had shied from the Old City.

Abbas' new efforts to disarm militants, collect illegal weapons and reform security forces represent his determination to fulfill initial Palestinian obligations under a recently revived, U.S.-backed peace plan known as the road map. The plan is to be the foundation for peace negotiations that are to be relaunched at a Mideast conference to be held in Annapolis, Maryland, at the end of November.