Israeli forces arrest Palestinian Cabinet


Richard Moore

Original source URL:,0,5367523,full.story

Hamas Leaders Arrested; Israeli Executed
Associated Press Writer

11:39 PM PDT, June 28, 2006

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip ‹ Israeli forces arrested nearly one-third of the 
Hamas-led Palestinian Cabinet and 20 lawmakers early Thursday and pressed their 
incursion into Gaza, responding to the abduction of one of its soldiers.

Israeli warplanes also buzzed the summer home of Syria's president, accused by 
Israel of harboring the hard-line Hamas leaders its blames for masterminding the

Palestinian witnesses told The Associated Press that Israeli tanks and 
bulldozers entered northern Gaza before daybreak Thursday, adding a second front
to the Israeli action in Gaza that began early Wednesday when thousands of 
Israeli troops crossed into southern Gaza.

The Israeli military denied it moved into northern Gaza.

Adding to the tension, a Palestinian militant group said it killed an 
18-year-old Jewish settler kidnapped in the West Bank. Israeli security 
officials said Eliahu Asheri's body was found buried near Ramallah. They said he
was shot in the head, apparently soon after he was abducted on Sunday.

Army Radio said the arrested Hamas leaders might be used to trade for the 
captured soldier. Israel had refused earlier to trade prisoners for the 
soldier's release.

Palestinian security officials said seven ministers of the 24-member Hamas-led 
Cabinet and 20 lawmakers were arrested. Earlier reports that Deputy Prime 
Minister Nasser Shaer was among them were incorrect, they said.

No deaths or injuries were reported in the Israeli actions. But the warplanes 
knocked out Gaza's electric power plant, raising the specter of a humanitarian 
crisis. The Hamas-led government warned of "epidemics and health disasters" 
because of damaged water pipes to central Gaza and the lack of power to pump 

Although the Israeli action was sparked by the abduction of the soldier, Israeli
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's government also is alarmed by the firing of 
homemade rockets on Israeli communities around Gaza and support for Hamas in the
Arab world, especially from Syria.

In a clear warning to Syrian President Bashar Assad, Israeli airplanes flew 
ovecr his seaside home near the Mediterranean port city of Latakia in 
northwestern Syria, military officials confirmed, citing the "direct link" 
between his government and Hamas. Israeli television reports said four planes 
were involved in the low-altitude flight, and that Assad was there at the time.

Syria confirmed Israeli warplanes entered its airspace, but said its air 
defenses forced the Israeli aircraft to flee.

In Gaza late Wednesday, Israeli missiles also hit two empty Hamas training 
camps, a rocket-building factory and several roads. Warplanes flew low over the 
coastal strip, rocking it with sonic booms and shattering windows. Troops in 
Israel backed up the assault with artillery fire.

The area's normally bustling streets were eerily deserted, with people taking 
refuge inside their homes.

Witnesses reported heavy shelling around Gaza's long-closed airport, which 
Israeli troops took over. Dozens of people living near the airport fled to 
nearby Rafah.

The militant Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades said it fired a rocket with a chemical 
warhead at the Israeli town of Sderot Wednesday night, the first such claim. The
Israeli military said it did not detect a rocket fired then. Al Aqsa is linked 
to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah faction.

In Rafah, Nivine Abu Shbeke, a 23-year-old mother of three, hoarded bags of 
flour, boxes of vegetables and other supplies. "We're worried about how long the
food will last," she said. "The children devour everything."

Prior to the latest incursion into northern Gaza, the Israeli army dropped 
leaflets warning residents of impending military activity.

Dozens of Palestinian militants -- armed with automatic weapons and grenades -- 
took up positions, bracing for the attack.

Anxious Palestinians pondered whether the incursion, the first large-scale 
ground offensive since Israel withdrew from Gaza last year, was essentially a 
"shock and awe" display designed to intimidate militants, or the prelude to a 
full-scale invasion.

Olmert threatened harsher action, though he said there was no plan to reoccupy 
Gaza. Abbas deplored the incursion as a "crime against humanity."

The Israeli assault came as diplomatic efforts to free the 19-year-old Israeli 
soldier, Cpl. Gilad Shalit, bogged down with Hamas demanding a prisoner swap and
Israel refusing, demanding Shalit's unconditional release. Shalit was abducted 
by Hamas-linked militants on Sunday and is believed to be in southern Gaza.

"We won't hesitate to carry out extreme action to bring Gilad back to his 
family," Olmert declared.

Abbas and Egyptian dignitaries urged Assad to use his influence with Khaled 
Mashaal, the Hamas leader exiled in Syria, to free Shalit. Assad agreed, but 
without results, said a senior Abbas aide.

As for Mashaal, Israeli Justice Minister Haim Ramon said the hard-line Hamas 
leader, who appears to be increasingly at odds with more moderate Hamas 
politicians in Gaza, is in Israel's sights for assassination.

"Khaled Mashaal, as someone who is overseeing, actually commanding the terror 
acts, is definitely a target," Ramon told Army Radio.

Israel tried to kill Mashaal in a botched assassination attempt in Jordan in 
1997. Two Mossad agents injected Mashaal with poison, but were caught. As 
Mashaal lay in a Jordanian hospital, King Hussein of Jordan forced Israel to 
provide the antidote in return for the release of the Mossad agents.

The United Nations and European Union on Wednesday urged both Israel and the 
Palestinians to step back from the brink and, echoing a statement from Secretary
of State Condoleezza Rice, to give diplomacy a chance.

The White House kept up its pressure on Hamas, saying the Palestinian government
must "stop all acts of violence and terror." But the U.S. also urged Israel to 
show restraint.

"In any actions the government of Israel may undertake, the United States urges 
that it ensures that innocent civilians are not harmed, and also that it avoid 
the unnecessary destruction of property and infrastructure," said White House 
press secretary Tony Snow.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan urged restraint in a phone call to Olmert, 
saying he had spoken with Assad and Abbas and asked them to do everything 
possible to release the soldier. Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa called
on the U.S. to assume its role as "honest broker" and to make the 
Palestinian-Israeli conflict its top priority in the Middle East.

Hamas' negotiators' tentative acceptance Tuesday of a document that Abbas allies
claimed implicitly recognizes Israel appeared beside the point a day later, with
Israel saying no political agreement can substitute for Shalit's freedom.

On Wednesday, Palestinian militants braced for a major strike, fanning out 
across neighborhoods, taking up positions behind sand embankments and firing 
several rockets into Israeli communities bordering Gaza. Civilians stockpiled 
food, water, batteries and candles after warplanes destroyed the coastal strip's
only power plant, and main roads linking north to south.

Gaza's economy was already in the doldrums before the Israeli assault, a result 
of five years of Israeli-Palestinian violence and an international aid boycott 
that followed Hamas' parliamentary election victory in January. The Israeli 
assault threatened to turn a bad situation into a disaster -- underscoring the 
extent to which hopes have been dashed following the optimism that accompanied 
Israel's pullout.

Palestinian plans for high-rise apartments, sports complexes and industrial 
parks in lands evacuated by Israel have given way to despair, with rising 
poverty, increasingly violent relations with Israel and a looming threat of 
civil war.

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