In what could be the beginning of an expanded crackdown on the Islamic Jihad, Israeli soldiers on Tuesday arrested 50 members of the resistance organization in early-morning raids in several West Bank areas.

24 of the arrests occurred near the West Bank city of Hebron, 12 in Bethlehem, and the rest in Qalqilia, Ramallah and Jenin. 

The raids reflect an Israeli decision to step up operations against Palestinian factions involved in attacks against the military and settlers, according to an Israeli military source.

Some of the Jihad members arrested Tuesday were allegedly involved in planning a series of recent violent incidents, including a shooting attack Monday on a car near the settlement of Hermesh, adjacent to the village of Baqa al-Sharqiyya, between Tulkarem and Jenin. One settler was killed and another lightly wounded in that incident.

But the sources said the military and security services have decided to go beyond the policy of pursuing only fighters classified as “tickling bombs” – individuals directly involved in planning and carrying out attacks. The army now intends to conduct what was described as a more “widespread” operation against members of the Jihad.

The Israeli online daily Haaretz reported that the Shabak (Israeli security service) and army decided to concentrate their attack against cells and members of the Islamic Jihad in Tulkarem, Jenin and Bethlehem

Israeli defense minister Shaul Mofaz authorized the army to invade Tulkarem in order to carry out arrests, even though the Palestinian Authority nominally has control over the area.  

The Palestinian interior ministry on Monday warned figures in the Islamic Jihad and Fatah against any further escalation in the area.