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Economic Occupation: Mall Ordered To Close

Israeli forces raided a popular shopping mall in the occupied West Bank on Tuesday, ordering its closure for two years over its owner's alleged links to Hamas.

Palestinian shoppers defied the Arabic-language order, left at the complex and signed by an Israeli general, by flocking to the five-storey complex in the centre of the city of Nablus.

"Those in charge of the property must ... close it and keep it shut for two years, upon receipt of this order," the document said, threatening violators with a five-year jail term and giving shopowners until Aug. 15 to move their businesses.

The Israeli army surrounds Nablus, which is governed by President Mahmoud Abbas's Palestinian Authority, but mounts frequent raids into the city in what the military describes as attempts to prevent attacks by militants.

"We will not recognise the illegal measures taken by the army. We will not obey its orders," said Nablus governor Jamal al-Muheisen.

In an early morning operation, Israeli soldiers entered the mall and the offices of the complex's owner, the Beit Almal finance company, confiscating computers. The army said Beit Almal "worked on (Hamas's) behalf and sought to support it".

Osnan Musleh, a Beit Almal board member, denied the allegations.

"This shopping centre belongs to a public company with more than 4,000 shareholders. It has no connection to politics or Hamas," he said.

Israel has stepped up a campaign against organisations in the occupied West Bank which it says are linked to Hamas, the Islamist group that seized the Gaza Strip from Abbas's Fatah faction a year ago and opposes his talks with the Jewish state.

A statement issued by the Israeli government on Monday said Defence Minister Ehud Barak recently signed an order declaring 36 international charitable funds, suspected by Israel of raising money for Hamas, to be "banned associations".

The order to close the shopping mall said anyone wishing to appeal against the edict could submit a petition to the Israeli military's legal department.