Palestinian sources told Aljazeera.net that Israeli soldiers arrested on Monday dozens of Islamist political activists, including a number of municipal council officials.
One of the arrested is Hakim Shalalda, the mayor of Sair, 10km northeast of Hebron. Shalalda won the town's mayoral elections nearly three months ago.
His family told Aljazeera.net that Israeli occupation soldiers raided their home before dawn on Monday, telling him he was under arrest.
"They came and took him. I think it is because of the elections," said his wife.
Israeli soldiers also arrested 15 Islamist political activists in al-Shuyukh, also in the Hebron district.
Last week, the Israeli army arrested the seven elected members of the municipal council of the village of Shuqba in the northern West Bank.
Israeli soldiers continue to carry out nightly raids targeting the homes of potential Islamist candidates for the third and last phase of the municipal elections in the West Bank, set to take place before the end of the year.
Hamas sources estimate the number of Islamic political leaders and activists arrested during the past 10 days is 450, including academics, teachers, civil servants, students and business people.
According to East Jerusalem lawyer Tawhid Shaban, who defends many of the detainees before Israeli military courts, up to 80% of the detainees have already been sent to the Negev desert detention camp, Kitziot.
Asked if he thought the arrests had any legal justifications, Shaban said: "The occupation itself has no legal justification, but it is a reality."
Shaban said most of the detainees were given five to six months of "administrative detention," meaning they will be incarcerated without charge or trial for political reasons.
"Israel realises that genuine democracy empowers the Palestinian people, and a strong Palestinian people is the last thing Israel would want to see"
Palestinian current affairs commentator
Some of the detainees, such as Hasan Yusuf, the Ram Allah based spokesman of Hamas, were reportedly placed in solitary confinement in the Askalan maximum security prison.
Israel already detains between 9000 and 10,000 Palestinian political and resistance activists, many without charge or trial.
Palestinian current affairs commentator Hani Masri told Aljazeera.net Israel was not interested in seeing democracy in the occupied Palestinian territories.
"Israel realises that genuine democracy empowers the Palestinian people, and a strong Palestinian people is the last thing Israel would want to see."
Masri said he thought Fatah would lose in the eyes of the Palestinian public if it participated in the next elections, irrespective of Hamas's participation.
Democracy would give
Palestinians greater powers
"Then two things would happen. First, the elections would be, more or less, a one horse race; and, second, Fatah would be viewed by a majority of Palestinians as conniving with Israel against Hamas and carrying out Israel's agenda."
Masri said Israel would be responsible for sabotaging the Palestinian elections, adding that the PA should cancel the polls and "throw the ball in the court of the international community".
"Everybody knows that without Hamas there will be no genuine elections. Similarly, we all realise that a Fatah-dominated parliament would perpetuate the status quo and deepen the crisis facing the entire Palestinian political system."
Masri's views are supported by Ghazi Hamd, editor-in-chief of the Gaza-based Islamic Weekly, Al-Risla.
"If Hamas finds out that Israel is determined to prevent it from taking part in the Palestinian elections, then the movement will wreck everything."
Hamd told Aljazeera.net that Israel's interference in Palestinian elections underscored the hypocrisy of George Bush's vision for political reform in the Arab world.
"We are arresting them in order to protect the lives of Israeli citizens"
Israeli Foreign Ministry
"Bush is dispatching envoys to encourage Arabs to introduce democratic reforms, while Israel, his ally and spoiled child, is wrecking Palestinian elections by arresting candidates."
The Israeli government has described the Israeli crackdown on Hamas as a "purely defensive act".
"We are arresting them in order to protect the lives of Israeli citizens," said Mark Regev, spokesman for the Israeli Foreign Ministry.
Regev told Aljazeera.net that, as far as Israel was concerned, there was no distinction between Hamas's resistance leadership and political leadership.
Regev said Israel was not interfering in the Palestinian internal affairs, calling the arrest of hundreds of Hamas political activists as a proactive action against "terror".