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Hamas Deputy PM goes into hiding as Israel warns even Haniyeh not immune

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06/29/2006 09:21 AM
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Hamas Deputy PM goes into hiding as Israel warns even Haniyeh not immune
Palestinian Deputy Prime Minister Nasser a-Shaer, who evaded capture by Israel Defense Forces troops during the mass arrest of Hamas officials before dawn Thursday, has gone into hiding in the West Bank.

A-Shaer has disconnected all his cellular telephones out of fear Israeli security services would again attempt to track him down and arrest him.

The detentions of senior Hamas officials were part of Israel's expanded military operation against the Hamas-led government in the Palestinian Authority.

Hamas ministers had expected such arrests. A-Shaer, who is the most senior among them in the West Bank, was not sleeping at home when the sweep took place, his wife said.

She said she had been in contact with him, and that he was not arrested. Employees at the Ministry of Education offices in Ramallah reported seeing him in the building in the late morning.

The arrests were planned several weeks ago and received approval from Attorney General Menachem Mazuz on Wednesday. The same day, Shin Bet Director Yuval Diskin presented Prime Minister Ehud Olmert with the list of Hamas officials slated for detention.

IDF troops launched the major arrest operation against Hamas officials overnight, detaining 64 of the ruling militant group's ministers and parliamentarians in the West Bank and 23 military operatives.

The arrests took place in Ramallah, Qalqilyah, Hebron, Jenin and East Jerusalem, according to Palestinian reports. Soldiers carried arrest warrants signed by judges that were issued following cooperative preparatory work by the state prosecution and police.

On Thursday morning, National Infrastructure Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer hinted that Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh is not exempt from arrest or harm.

"No one is immune... This is not a government. It is a murderous organization," Ben-Eliezer said.

A Hamas official called the arrests an "open war against the Palestinian government and people," and said that Israel must be prepared to pay their consequences.

"We have no government, we have nothing. They have all been taken," Saeb Erekat, an ally of Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, said of the arrests. "This is absolutely unacceptable and we demand their release immediately."

Israel Radio quoted Shin Bet security chief Yuval Diskin as having told Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on the day of the kidnapping: "If the soldier is not returned in 24 hours, Israel will not allow the Palestinian government to survive."

The Foreign Ministry released a statement Thursday saying the recent security-related events, particularly the Qassam rocket fire and the kidnapping of IDF soldier Gilad Shalit, were realizations of the Palestinian government's policies of terror.

The taking of responsibility for the kidnapping and the Hamas-led government's demand to exchange prisoners prove that Hamas' primary objective is not concern for the Palestinian people but determination to implement its policies of terror.

"As a result of this, and out of a basic obligation to its citizens, Israel decided to implement orders to prevent terrorism," the statement read.

Included among those Hamas officials arrested were Finance Minister Omar Abdel Razek, Minister Samir Abu Aysha, Khaled Abu Arfeh and Jerusalem Affairs Ministers Naef Rajoub, brother of senior Fatah official Jibril Rajoub.

Palestinian attorneys representing security detainees at the IDF military court in Salem said Thursday morning they refuse to represent the Hamas members arrested overnight because they maintain the arrests themselves are illegitimate.

In Ramallah, troops arrested at least two cabinet ministers and four lawmakers, all from Hamas, in a raid on a complex of buildings, Palestinian security officials said.

Labor Minister Mohammed Barghouti was stopped on his way to his village, Kabur, just north of Ramallah. Military jeeps stopped his car, ordered him out of the vehicle and took him away, the officials said.

In East Jerusalem, lawmakers Mohammed Abu Tir, Wael al-Husseini and Ahmed a-Tun were arrested.

Also, the Hamas mayor of the West Bank town of Qalqilyah and his deputy were detained, security officials said.

An IDF spokeswoman said the arrests were part of an operation against suspected terrorists, and were not "bargaining chips" for the release of abducted IDF soldier Corporal Gilad Shalit.

"They are not bargaining chips for the return of the soldier. It was simply an operation against a terrorist organization," she said. "They will be investigated, brought before a judge to extend their detention and charge sheets will be prepared."

The arrests are part of several moves designed to increase pressure on the militant group to free a captive soldier. Israel blames Hamas for the abduction of Shalit, kidnapped Sunday by militants who attacked an IDF post near the border with Gaza.

Army Radio said the Hamas leaders might be used to trade for the captured soldier, but the IDF refused to comment on the matter.

Olmert, who approved the arrest list, is set to convene a security consultation meeting with Defense Minister Amir Peretz and defense chiefs Thursday afternoon. Later in the day, he is to hold additional meetings on the security situation at the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv.

The operation Thursday night came amidst IDF operations in the southern Gaza Strip aimed at securing Shalit's release.

[link to www.haaretz.com]