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
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Life and Style
Powdered colors are displayed for sale at a market ahead of the Holi festival in Bhopal, India
techHere's what you need to know about the riotous occasion
Arts and Entertainment
Larry David and Rosie Perez in ‘Fish in the Dark’
theatreReview: Had Fish in the Dark been penned by a civilian it would have barely got a reading, let alone £10m advance sales
News
Details of the self-cleaning coating were published last night in the journal Science
science
News
Approved Food sell products past their sell-by dates at discounted prices
i100
News
Life-changing: Simone de Beauvoir in 1947, two years before she wrote 'The Second Sex', credited as the starting point of second wave feminism
peopleHer seminal feminist polemic, The Second Sex, has been published in short-form to mark International Women's Day
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 Assistant / Credit Controller

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are an award-winning digit...

Ashdown Group: Senior VMware Platform Engineer - VMware / SAN / Tier3 DC

£45000 - £55000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior VMware Platform En...

Recruitment Genius: Purchasing Assistant

£10000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A distributor of specialist ele...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Ledger Assistant

£17000 - £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A distributor of specialist ele...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

Homeless Veterans campaign

Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

Lost without a trace

But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

Confessions of a planespotter

With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

Russia's gulag museum

Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

The big fresh food con

Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

Virginia Ironside was my landlady

Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

Paris Fashion Week 2015

The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
8 best workout DVDs

8 best workout DVDs

If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

Paul Scholes column

I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable