Israel arrests Hamas minister

These include the Palestinian education minister Nasseredine al-Shaer, three lawmakers and four mayors.


The arrests came as Israel launched more air strikes in the Gaza Strip Thursday, stepping up a campaign against Hamas Islamists.

VIDEO: Gaza tension high

The escalation came hours after Hamas and other groups rebuffed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' call for a halt to cross-border rocket attacks by Gaza militants at southern Israeli towns.

Israel conducted a similar operation last year against Hamas ministers and lawmakers in the West Bank that sparked an international backlash.

In Gaza, one of the Israeli air strikes hit a car carrying Hamas militants. They escaped unharmed but at least two people nearby were injured in the blast, witnesses said.

Other Israeli air strikes targeted Hamas' financial network, the army said.

Mr Abbas, whose secular Fatah faction joined a unity government led by ruling Hamas Islamists two months ago, had hoped to convince militants to stop rocket attacks against Israel as part of a renewed ceasefire with the Jewish state.

But Hamas official Sami Abu Zuhri said Israel's actions showed any ceasefire call by Abbas was "worthless".

The Islamist group and others said they would only consider stopping rocket attacks if Israel first called off all of its military operations in Gaza and the West Bank.

Israel has rebuffed similar demands in the past, arguing its

West Bank operations are essential to preventing militant attacks.

Israel also appeared sceptical about another Gaza ceasefire, arguing it could give Hamas the leeway to increase its hold on power and smuggle in more arms.

In addition to the attack on the car, Israeli air strikes destroyed the offices of at least two Gaza money-changers close to

Hamas, local residents said.

An Israeli army spokeswoman accused one of the money-changers of single-handedly transferring millions of dollars a month from Iran, Syria and Lebanon to Hamas and other groups to buy and manufacture weapons, and to fund militant training.

Mr Abbas held inconclusive talks yesterday with Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas and other faction leaders, the first such meetings since a surge in factional violence this month verging on civil war.

Despite the latest ceasefire, tensions between Hamas and Fatah remain high.

An earlier Abbas-Haniyeh meeting had been called off after Israel said on Tuesday it could target Haniyeh if the rocket fire continued.

Some 50 Palestinians were killed in the latest round of factional fighting between Hamas and Fatah.

Israeli air strikes over the last eight days have killed at least 35 Palestinians.

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