(photo credit: AP)
The IDF pulled its troops and armored vehicles out of Nablus early Tuesday after a three-day operation targeting Palestinian terror operatives.
The operation largely brought life to a standstill in Nablus, the West Bank's commercial center. An estimated 50,000 people were confined to their homes as troops combed houses and alleys for wanted men. One Palestinian man was killed, and the army said it arrested five operatives and uncovered three weapons laboratories.
At dawn, no army forces were visible in Nablus. The army said it had lifted the curfew that shut down large parts of the city in recent days. But it would not confirm the end of the raid, the largest military operation in the West Bank in months, raising the possibility that troops might return.
Adli Yaish, the mayor of Nablus, said the Israeli forces were gone and called on residents to resume their normal lives.
"We have to continue living," Yaish said, urging students and teachers to attend school Tuesday. Municipal workers had already begun cleaning the streets in the raid's aftermath, Yaish said.
But Nablus district governor Kamal Sheikh said he feared the army had only briefly halted the operation and that it would soon resume.
"I think the Israeli military action is not over," Sheikh said.
By midafternoon, the city had largely come back to life. Schools and university studies reopened after two days of closure, streets were clogged with traffic and marketplaces were bustling with activity.
One Palestinian, a 50-year-old man, was killed in the operation. The army said he was killed Monday when troops fired at figures moving on the roof of a building where they had seen gunmen and where they later found a weapon. Palestinians said he was unarmed and was shot from a passing jeep.
Ashraf Tibi, whose father, Annan, was killed, said they came under fire Monday afternoon when they went to the roof of their home to fix a water pipe. He said he spotted some soldiers nearby.
"My father said 'Go down quickly.' The moment I turned around, I was shot in the hand," he said. "Then I heard two more bullets. I went back up and saw my father was shot in the neck." He said an ambulance rushed to the scene, but his father died before they could reach a hospital.
The army said it was searching for a suspect in the building at the time of the shooting, and soldiers grew suspicious when they spotted someone on the roof. It said a weapon was later found in the building, but had no evidence that the dead man was armed.
The major terror groups in Nablus said Annan Tibi was not a member. Normally, armed groups celebrate their dead as "martyrs."
The army said the Nablus raid was necessary because most of the suicide bombers trying to enter Israel from the West Bank come from the city. Troops also uncovered workshops used to manufacture explosive devices and bomb belts, as well as a studio where suicide bombers recorded their farewell statements, the army said.
Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said the offensive would "undermine the efforts" by Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas to maintain a cease-fire with Israel. Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas condemned "the criminal Israeli assault on Nablus," saying it was designed to undermine Palestinian efforts to form a coalition government.