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Israel arrests Hamas leaders in West Bank

The new strategy is intended to force an end to rocket attacks.

Published May 25, 2007


NABLUS, West Bank - Israel rounded up a Palestinian Cabinet minister and 32 other Hamas leaders in the West Bank before dawn Thursday, trying a new tactic in its campaign to pressure the Islamic militant group into halting rocket barrages from the Gaza Strip.

The Palestinian president condemned the arrests, saying they would hinder his efforts to restore a truce with Israel, while Hamas threatened to retaliate with attacks inside the Jewish state.

The arrests reflected an Israeli decision to target the Hamas political leadership - but not necessarily with the lethal airstrikes it has staged over the past week on Hamas targets.

On Thursday, Israel carried out several airstrikes in Gaza, including one that hit near the home of Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh.

At sundown, two mortar shells fired from Gaza exploded at Erez, the main crossing for people between the Palestinian territory and Israel. No was hurt, but there was damage to two of the processing lanes, and Israel closed the crossing, the military said.

More than 40 Palestinians died in Israeli air raids over the past 10 days, and a rocket killed an Israeli woman Monday. The rocket barrages have severely disrupted life in the southern Israel area near Gaza, and thousands of frightened residents have fled.

Israeli Defense Minister Amir Peretz said the arrests in the West Bank were part of Israel's attempt to neutralize Hamas and lessen bloodshed.

"Arrests are better than shooting, " he told Israeli Army Radio. "The arrest of these Hamas leaders sends a message to the military organizations that we demand that this (rocket) firing stop."

The office of Haniyeh, a member of Hamas, demanded the immediate release of the detainees and urged the United Nations and European Union to impose sanctions on Israel.

The most prominent Hamas leader arrested overnight was Education Minister Nasser Shaer, considered a pragmatist. His wife, Huda, said soldiers knocked on the door of their home in Nablus and took him away, along with his computer. Israel also detained Shaer for a month last year, before a judge ordered his release.

Israel's military said Hamas fired six rockets into Israel on Thursday, though Hamas claimed firing 14, still less than previous days.

[Last modified May 25, 2007, 02:04:02]

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