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Israel raids Palestinian NGO offices

By Noah Browning

RAMALLAH, West Bank (Reuters) - Israeli soldiers raided the offices of three civil society organizations on Tuesday in the heart of Ramallah, the de facto Palestinian capital in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

Entering before dawn, troops wrenched open the doors of the Women's Union, the Palestinian NGO Network and Addameer, an advocate for Palestinians in Israeli jails, confiscating five computers from the latter group.

The sweeps were the first of their kind in a Palestinian city since the West Bank government won an initiative at the United Nations General Assembly on November 29 which recognized a de facto Palestinian state, stoking tensions with Israel.

"This comes in the context of the U.N.'s decision," Allam Jarrar of the Palestinian NGO Network told reporters on Tuesday morning, "boycott Israel" leaflets strewn on the floor of the raided office.

"This a message by the Israelis to the Palestinians, saying that when they take decisions or form patriotic organizations to seek their freedom, the occupation will use aggression to try and stop us," he said.

The Israeli military said the targeted offices were associated with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a small leftist faction with an armed wing in Gaza but engaged in peaceful civil activism in the West Bank.

The West Bank has seen mounting clashes between Israeli soldiers and Palestinian protestors, leaving two Palestinians dead since the launch on November 14 of an eight-day Israeli offensive in the Gaza Strip.

Nighttime arrests of Palestinians Israel suspects of militant activity have awoken small towns throughout the West Bank in the last week, provoking exchanges of gunfire by troops and stones heaved at them by increasingly defiant locals.

The secular, Western-backed Ramallah government coordinates closely with Israel's security forces, despite Palestinian officials accusing Israel of trying to punish them and their people for their achievement at the United Nations.

"The Israeli government decided to dock our money as a punitive measure and announced its intention to build thousands of settlement units in and around Jerusalem," Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas told the Turkish parliament on Monday.

"This was a threat to us not to seek protection for our people and our land and our holy places through specialized international organizations," he said.

Israel says it will withhold $200 million in customs duties it collects on the Palestinians' behalf and has announced a large expansion of Jewish settlements around the West Bank's Jerusalem hub, to the dismay of European countries.

Palestinian leaders have warned they might retaliate by pursuing resolutions censuring Israel in the U.N. Security Council or filing complaints against Israel at the International Criminal Court.

(Reporting By Noah Browning; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

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