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Israel Arrests More Than 30 Hamas Members as Crackdown Continues

24 May 2007

Israeli security forces arrested more than 30 leading members of Hamas, Thursday, in the occupied West Bank - part of a continuing crackdown against Hamas for launching rockets into Israel from the Gaza Strip. VOA's Jim Teeple has details from our Jerusalem Bureau.

The most prominent Hamas leader arrested is Nasser Shaer, the education minister in the Hamas-dominated Palestinian unity government. Israeli forces also detained the mayors of the West Bank towns Nablus, Qalqiliya and Beita, as well as at least one former cabinet minister and several sitting members of the Palestinian legislature.

Speaking on Israeli Radio, Defense Minister Amir Peretz says the arrests are part of an ongoing crackdown on Hamas for its continued rocket attacks against the southern Israeli city, Sderot, from the Gaza Strip.

Peretz says arrests are preferable to bloodshed. He says the detentions send a message to Hamas leaders that Israel will not tolerate the rocket attacks.

Israeli air strikes targeted currency exchange shops in the Gaza Strip that Israeli military authorities say were being used to funnel money to Hamas militants. The arrests and ongoing Israeli strikes in Gaza were condemned by Palestinian officials, like presidential spokesman Nabil Aburdeneh speaking on Palestinian radio.

Aburdeneh says the Israeli actions will not help Israel's security and could only provoke Palestinians - saying international mediation is needed to end the current crisis.

The Israeli actions on Thursday followed a meeting in Gaza between Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh and moderate Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Media reports say the two men discussed declaring a unilateral truce with Israel and the truce between the Palestinian factions Hamas and Fatah that went into effect a few days ago.

Palestinian in-fighting, in the past two weeks, has led to the deaths of about 50 people and sparked a surge in the firing of rockets against Israel by Hamas - which in turn has led to Israeli reprisals in the form of air strikes against Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip.

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