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.

Premier League Live
footballLIVE Follow all the Premier League action as it happens
Life and Style
3D printed bump keys can access almost any lock
gadgets + echSoftware needs photo of lock and not much more
The slice of Prince Charles and Princess Diana's wedding cake and the original box from 29 July 1981
newsPiece of Charles and Diana's wedding cake sold at auction in US
James Argent from Towie is missing, police say
peopleTV star had been reported missing
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Arts and Entertainment
Gregg Wallace in Summer's Supermarket Secrets
tv All of this year's 15 contestants have now been named
i100(and it's got nothing to do with the Great British Bake Off)
Arts and Entertainment
Inside the gallery at Frederick Bremer School in Walthamstow
tvSimon Usborne goes behind the scenes to watch the latest series
Life and Style
A picture taken on January 12, 2011 shows sex shops at the Paris district of Pigalle.
newsThe industry's trade body issued the moratorium on Friday
Arts and Entertainment
Could we see Iain back in the Bake Off tent next week?
tv Contestant teased Newsnight viewers on potential reappearance
Life and Style
Silvia says of her famous creation: 'I never stopped wearing it. Because I like to wear things when they are off the radar'
fashionThe fashion house celebrated fifteen years of the punchy pouch with a weighty tome
The Ukip leader has consistently refused to be drawn on where he would mount an attempt to secure a parliamentary seat
voicesNigel Farage: Those who predicted we would lose momentum heading into the 2015 election are going to have to think again
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012
film Cara Delevingne 'in talks' to star in Zoolander sequel
Mario Balotelli pictured in his Liverpool shirt for the first time
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Clinical Negligence Solicitor

Highly Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: HAMPSHIRE MARKET TOWN - A highly attr...

Network Engineer (CCNP, CCNA, Linux, OSPF, BGP, Multicast, WAN)

£35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Network Engineer (CCNP, CCNA, Linux, OSPF,...

Commercial Property Solicitor - Bristol

Highly Attractive Package: Austen Lloyd: A VERY HIGH QUALITY FIRM A high qual...

DevOps Engineer (Systems Administration, Linux, Shell, Bash)

£50000 per annum: Harrington Starr: DevOps Engineer (Systems Administration, L...

Day In a Page

Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

The phoney war is over

Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

Salomé: A head for seduction

Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

British Library celebrates all things Gothic

Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

In search of Caribbean soul food

Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
11 best face powders

11 best face powders

Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone