Israel cripples Hamas with arrest of ministers

The majority of the faction's most senior political figures outside Gaza were detained in an unexpected nocturnal sweep early yesterday, which Palestinians swiftly interpreted as a move to dislodge the Hamas government and which the Group of Eight industrialised countries said raised " particular concerns".

The Israel Defence Forces said last night that those arrested, who include Omar Abdel Razeq, the Finance Minister, Nasser Shaer, the Deputy Prime Minister, and six of their cabinet colleagues, would be brought before a judge to extend their detention and that indictments would be filed against "those who are deemed sufficiently suspect of criminal activity".

Israeli air strikes in Gaza City also destroyed the Interior Ministry and an office belonging to President Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah group.

As the military pressure continued with artillery barrages directed at open ground in the northern Gaza towns of Beit Hanoun and Beit Lahiya, reports in Israel said Ehud Olmert, the Israeli Prime Minister, had ordered the incursion into Beit Hanoun planned for last night to be delayed.

The reports came as Hosni Mubarak, the Egyptian President, told the daily Al Ahram newspaper that he had asked for the delay after Hamas had made a " conditional agreement" to hand over Gilad Shalit, the 19-year-old army corporal who was abducted by Palestinian militants ­ including members of Hamas's armed wing ­ on Sunday. But he added that Israel had not yet accepted.

A leaflet dropped on Beit Hanoun earlier by Israeli forces warned residents to keep off the streets during the operation ­ the first since Israel's withdrawal from Gaza last August ­ and that anyone who sought to disrupt the IDF mission would be "in danger".

The body of a Jewish settler from the West Bank settlement of Itamar, Eliyahu Asheri, 18, whom the Palestinian Resistance Committees (PRC), another of the groups responsible for Cpl Shalit's abduction, had claimed to have kidnapped, was found in a field in Ramallah early yesterday, and buried at the Mount of Olives cemetery in Jerusalem.

In a separate development in southern Gaza, where Israeli troops have taken control of the disused Gaza international airport, hundreds of Palestinian and Egyptian police on both sides of the Gaza-Egypt border at Rafah formed a human cordon to try to prevent Palestinians rushing to get through a hole blasted in the concrete border wall by militants saying were members of Hamas's military wing.

The West Bank arrests of the Hamas political figures, along with another 23 identified as militants by Israel, provoked a furious reaction even from its Fatah rivals. Five of the ministers were arrested in the same Ramallah hotel while a fifth, Mohammed Barghouti, was stopped by a military jeep as he drove to his home just north of the city.

As President Abbas called on the UN to intervene, one of his allies, Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian Liberation Organisation negotiator, said: "We have no government, we have nothing. They have all been taken. This is absolutely unacceptable and we demand their release immediately."

Israel's Foreign Ministry said the arrests had been justified by Hamas's willingness to claim responsibility for Qassam rocket attacks on Israel over the past two and a half weeks, an open resort to militancy, which had reached a "crescendo" with its military wing's involvement in the raid on an Israeli border post on Sunday in which two Israeli soldiers were killed and Cpl Shalit abducted. "Hamas can't get back into the terrorism business and not expect us to respond," said Mark Regev, the ministry spokesman.

Palestinian engineers managed to redistribute six hours of electricity to people cut off on Wednesday but there were further attacks on the power plant.

At the Beit Hanoun Palestinian National Security depot, half a mile, from the Israeli border at Erez, on the other side of which tanks and troops have been massing, Sergeant Nasser Tibi said that as soon as they saw Israeli forces advancing they would inform their superiors and then withdraw. " The resistance may act but not here in open land."

Inside the town, Basil Hamad, 42, a teacher at the Islamic University, said amid the repeated sounds of artillery shelling: "There may be resistance but ... there is no comparison between the strength of Israeli forces and the weakness of the Palestinians." Mr Hamad said he believed Cpl Shalit was still alive and was shocked to hear of the death of the settler. "It is not our way," he said. "There should be an exchange of prisoners and the whole world should back it."

In contrast to Rafah, there was little sign of panic buying in Beit Hanoun. But the IDF leaflet makes it clear that the army will continue its operations until Cpl Shalit is rescued ­ and it can "protect the security of Israeli citizens" ­ a reference to the Qassam rockets frequently fired from the town.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Arts and Entertainment
a clockwork orange, stanley kubrick
film
Extras
The Tesco Hudl2: An exceptional Android tablet that's powerful, well-built and outstanding value
indybest

News
Sarah Silverman (middle) with sister Reform Rabbi Susan Silverman (right) and sister actress Laura Silverman (left) at Jerusalem's Western Wall for feminist Hanuka candle-lighting ceremony
peopleControversial comedian stages pro-equality Hanukkah lighting during a protest at Jerusalem's Wailing Wall
Sport
After another poor series in Sri Lanka, Alastair Cook claimed all players go through a lean period
cricket
Arts and Entertainment
The Bach Choir has been crowned the inaugural winner of Sky Arts’ show The Great Culture Quiz
arts + ents140-year-old choir declared winner of Sky Arts' 'The Great Culture Quiz'
Life and Style
food + drinkAuthor DBC Pierre presents his guide to the morning after
Life and Style
food + drink
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas