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Israel arrests 52 militants in West Bank

JERUSALEM -- In an apparent policy shift, Israel arrested 52 Islamic Jihad militants in the West Bank overnight, following a series of attacks by the group against Israeli targets, the army said.

Israeli policy since a February truce had been to arrest only those suspected of planning terror attacks. But the arrests overnight were not restricted to those militants, Israeli media reported today. The army wouldn't immediately comment on whether there had been a policy change.

Islamic Jihad in recent weeks has stepped up its attacks on Israeli targets.

Palestinian gunmen killed an Israeli motorist yesterday in a West Bank ambush, and Israeli troops arrested a suspected suicide bomber with explosives hidden in her pants, escalating a wave of violence that has strained an already shaky cease-fire.

Palestinian officials condemned the violence, which also included the shooting death of a Palestinian man by Israeli troops. But Israel angrily demanded tougher action.

The growing tensions clouded a meeting set for today between Israel's prime minister, Ariel Sharon, and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas at which they are expected to coordinate Israel's withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and part of the West Bank.

The violence has raised doubts over whether Abbas can keep his pledge to maintain calm during the withdrawal, scheduled to begin in mid-August.

Today's summit is just the second time the two leaders have met since the election of Abbas in January. At their first meeting, in February, the men declared an end to more than four years of fighting.

But yesterday marked the third consecutive day of deadly violence.

Palestinian gunmen hiding in an alley ambushed a minivan in the northern West Bank, near the town of Jenin, killing one Israeli passenger and slightly wounding a second, the army said. The gunmen escaped.

The militant group Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility, though it said it remained committed to preserving the cease-fire.

Also yesterday, Israeli troops stopped a Palestinian woman with 22 pounds of explosives hidden on her body after she tried to blow herself up at a crossing from Gaza into Israel.

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