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(photo credit: AP [file])
The tight alleyways and narrow sidewalks in the Balata refugee camp outside of Nablus were quiet and tense Thursday, as the Palestinians there waited for the next imminent IDF raid to round up wanted terror suspects.
Together with Nablus's casbah, the refugee camp - one of the most densely populated places in the world - has become the Palestinian terror capital, a senior IDF officer stationed in the region said Thursday.
Nightly raids carried out by IDF troops in Nablus and the nearby refugee camps is, according to the army, what was keeping suicide terrorists out of Israel's cities.
On Thursday, The Jerusalem Post accompanied a battalion commander on a tour of the Nablus region and got an inside look at the daily IDF operations in the city.
Demonstrating the difficulty in keeping the area safe, on Thursday night two Israelis were wounded in a shooting attack near the main Tapuah Junction just south of Nablus. The wounded, a married couple, sustained multiple gunshots and were reported to be in moderate condition.
Such is the difficult situation facing the IDF in Samaria, on the one hand the Palestinian terror capital and on the other home to some of the most extreme settlers in communities like Tapuah, Itamar and Yitzhar.
Nablus is located in a valley protected by two hills, one occupied by the settlement of Bracha and the other by the settlement of Eilon Moreh. On another hill, east of Balata, lies Itamar.
"This is a beautiful and almost romantic part of the country," the battalion commander said. "If only we were living in different times."
Nablus, the officer said, was currently the source of most anti-Israel terror activity in the West Bank. Due to the incessant IDF operations and the pressure placed on the Palestinians, he said, all of the terror groups were working together to perpetrate attacks against Israeli targets.
"In some cases the explosives belt is provided by one group, the suicide bomber by another and the route to infiltrate into Israel is provided by a third," he said. "Our daily operations have put them under pressure and forced all of the organizations to work together." Hamas, he said, was also still involved in terror activity despite its victory in the Palestinian elections in January.
Most of the terror attacks originating in Nablus, he said, were perpetrated by the Islamic Jihad, which was also behind most of the Kassam rocket fire from Gaza and this past week's firing of a Katyusha rocket. The daily arrest raids into Nablus, he said, were "surgical operations" during which "each and every soldier knows his mission."
Most of the high-ranking terrorists, he added, preferred to die instead of being captured by the IDF.
"Knowing that they are facing 17 consecutive life sentences if caught, some of them prefer to be killed," he explained, giving as an example the gun battle that killed Islamic Jihad arch-terrorist Elias Ashkar, who was behind the murder of over 40 Israelis, earlier this week in Kabatiya.
But while the IDF succeeded in apprehending most of the wanted terror suspects, the officer admitted some were almost impossible to catch. He said that there was a possibility that targeted killings from the air - a tactic used frequently against Gaza Strip-based terrorists - might return to the West Bank.
Targeted killings have not been used in the West Bank for over a year, and the decision of whether a terrorist would be hit by a targeted killing was up to the defense minister and the IDF General Staff.
"It is all a question of whether we can get to the terror suspect or not," he explained. "Some suspects operate in a way that makes it difficult for us to physically get to them."
The army, he said, is sort of like Nablus itself, but instead of being stuck between two settlements, it walks a thin tense line between its need to keep the settlements safe from terrorists and ensuring that the Jewish residents of the region obey the law.
Despite disengagement, the officer said that the relationship between the IDF and the Jewish residents had remained warm.