Israeli raid targets Gaza building

Air attack on Hamas-linked Executive Force follows arrest of 33 senior group members.

    On Thursday, Nasser Shaer was arrested for the second time in the past year [AFP]
    Later at night, Israeli aircraft hit several more targets in southern Gaza, three from Hamas and one from Islamic Jihad, the Israeli military said.
    Nine people were hurt, including three children and two women, Palestinian hospital officials said.
    Just before midnight, an Israeli aircraft fired a missile at a shack in the Shati refugee camp where Ismail Haniya, the Palestinian prime minister, lives, security said. No one was hurt.
    The Israeli military said the target was a structure used by Hamas.
    Haniya went to inspect the site, but guards pulled him away because Israeli aircraft were still in the sky, security officials said.
    Rocket fire
    Thursday began with Israeli fighter jets hitting what the military said were money-changing offices and other businesses in Gaza channelling funds to Hamas.
    Three people were slightly wounded in one of the attacks, medical officials said, and four stores were damaged in another, Palestinian security officials said.
    Electricity was cut off in parts of the town.
    An overnight air strike in Gaza hit a car whose passengers escaped before the missiles landed.
    Israel has pounded Hamas targets in Gaza for a week in response to a sharp increase of rockets fired from the coastal strip.
    The air raids have so far killed 13 civilians and 25 Palestinian fighters.
    Nearly 130 rockets have crashed inside Israel over the past week and half, killing one woman, wounding 16 people, and sending hundreds fleeing the southern town of Sderot that has borne the brunt of the fire.
    Mass arrest
    Also on Thursday, Israeli troops arrested more than 33 senior Hamas members, including a cabinet minister, legislators and mayors.
    Nasser Shaer, the Palestinian education minister, was the most prominent Hamas member to be arrested, the second time the politician has been arrested in a round-up of Hamas members in the past year.
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    Speaking to Al Jazeera, Muhammad Barghouti, a Palestinian government minister, said: "What accusation will they [the Israelis] charge al-Shaer with this time? Will they charge him because he is a member of the Palestinian unity government? Or because he is the education minister?"
    "It is clear that these arrest operations are a new series of harsh attacks targeting Palestinian people.
    "These actions will not help in stabilising the area or succeeding in what the [Palestinian] government seeks to reach - a comprehensive truce with Israel."
    Shaer's wife said soldiers knocked on the door of their home in the West Bank city of Nablus and took him away.
    They also seized Shaer's computer, she said.
    Soldiers also arrested Abdel Rahman Zeidan, a former cabinet minister, legislators Hamed Bitawi and Daoud Abu Ser, the mayors of the towns of Nablus, Qalqiliya and Beita - Adli Yaish, Wajih Qawas and Arab Shurafa - as well as Fayad al-Arba, the head of the main Islamic charity in Nablus.

    Israeli rationale
    "Arrests are better than shooting," Amir Peretz, the Israeli defence minister, said on Israeli Army Radio.
    "The arrest of these Hamas leaders sends a message to the military organisations that we demand that this firing [of rockets] stop."

    Thursday's raid on the Executive Force building
    came after raids on businesses in Gaza

    Al Jazeera's Odeh said: "Many Palestinians, observers and laymen alike, see these arrests as an attack on Palestinian democracy.
    "They [the Israelis] are targeting not just the Hamas movement, but President Mahmoud Abbas's national unity government - these are officials who were elected by their constituents of various towns and cities across the West Bank."

    Troops also searched for Ahmed Haj Ali, a Hamas legislator in Nablus, but did not find him at home, neighbours said.
    Last summer, Israel arrested scores of senior Hamas members in retaliation for the capture of Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier, by Hamas-allied fighters.

    Shalit has not yet been released.
    Attacks criticised
    In other news, Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, said on Thursday that he is working with the Palestinian factions to stop their "absurd" rocket attacks on Israel.
    He said: "We don't need them. They must stop so we can reach a mutual truce with Israel in Gaza as well as in West Bank."
    Hes also criticised the Israeli reprisal raids.
    Abbas arrived in Gaza on Monday to try to restore a truce with Israel.
    On Thursday, he met Javier Solana, the European Union foreign policy chief.
    Solana said he was in Gaza for what he called "a solidarity" visit with the Palestinians. However, he appealed to the Palestinians to stop launching rockets.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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