Residents in several Palestinian towns in the northern, central and southern parts of the West Bank said on Saturday that Israeli occupation army bulldozers were sealing off Palestinian towns and villages with huge walls of rock and dirt.

The locals also reported deep moats being dug across main streets and thoroughfares, causing heavy damage to the water, electricity and telephone services.

The Hebron region has been hard hit by the latest Israeli army rampage. As many as a half million Palestinians live in the region: nearly one fourth of the total population of the West Bank.  

Dura mayor, Muhammad Abu Atwan, described the Israeli vandalism as "evil behaviour characteristic of the Zionist occupation".

"What they're doing is quite normal. There is no such thing as a benign occupation. The occupation has to be malignant … a good occupation is a contradiction in terms," he said.

'Concentration camps'

When asked why the Israeli army was destroying the vital infrastructure in his town, Abu Atwan said: "They did it for the same reasons that the Gestapo and the Nazis did what they did 60 years ago."

Abu Atwan said that Israel was effectively converting Palestinian towns and villages into "concentration camps".

Arab townspeople have been cut
off by fresh Israeli roadblocks

"They are not content with building the huge sinister wall around the West Bank; they want to build a wall around every Palestinian town, village and hamlet. They are learning from the Nazis and the Russians."

The Israeli army gave no explanation for the widespread destruction, which recalls its onslaught against Palestinian population centres in the spring of 2002.

Then, Israeli forces wreaked havoc on Palestinian civilian infrastructure, destroying many homes, roads, businesses and stealing millions of dollars-worth of merchandise during the protracted curfews.

Anti-Palestinian momentum

Some Israeli officials have suggested the army wants to "break the back of the Palestinians" before carrying out a purported disengagement plan.

Palestinians mourn Shaikh Yasin,
killed in Gaza City on 23 March

On Friday, Sharon's military adviser, Amos Gilaad, spoke of "keeping the momentum against the Palestinians following the assassination of [Hamas founder and spiritual leader Shaikh Ahmad] Yasin."

Earlier, Gilaad was quoted as saying that "soon will come the turn of [Palestinian Authority Leader Yasir] Arafat and [Hizb Allah leader Shaikh Hasan] Nasr Allah."

However, an Israeli cabinet minister, Tzahi Hanegbi, was quoted on Thursday as saying that Arafat was not a target.

Nevertheless, some Palestinian commentators see the killing of Yasin as deeply ominous.

Fears for Arafat

"It is only a rehearsal for the murder of President Arafat," wrote columnist Hani al-Masri in the Ram Allah-based pro-PLO daily newspaper, al-Ayyam. 

"They [Israel] want to figure out what reactions the assassination of Arafat would generate before carrying out the actual assassination."
 
Some Israeli peace activists told Aljazeera.net they agreed. 

"The army is apparently planning to gang up on the Palestinians while [Israeli Prime Minister Ariel] Sharon is planning an evacuation from Gaza and parts of the West Bank. I personally wouldn't rule out anything," said an Israeli activist from the Gush Shalom group.

"The sad thing is that the Americans believe him and the Europeans are giving him the benefit of the doubt."