IDF arrests Palestinian deputy prime minister

By Avi Issacharoff

Haaretz

Av 26, 5766

RAMALLAH - Israel Defense Forces soldiers arrested the Palestinian deputy prime minister early Saturday, the army said, the highest-ranking Hamas official to be arrested in a six-week-old crackdown against the ruling Hamas party.

Troops burst into the home of Nasser Shaer - considered to be a relative moderate - around 4:30 a.m. and took him away, the deputy prime minister's wife, Huda, said.

She said her husband had been in hiding since Israel began its crackdown in late June after Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip infiltrated southern Israel and captured a soldier. She said he had rarely been home during that period.

The army confirmed Shaer was arrested in Ramallah overnight for his involvement and activity in Hamas.

With Shaer's arrest, four members of the Hamas-dominated Palestinian Cabinet and some 28 Hamas lawmakers are in Israeli custody. Four other ministers have been detained and released. Despite the roundup and a seven-week offensive in Gaza, the soldier, Cpl. Gilad Shalit, remains in captivity.

Palestinian officials both from the ruling Hamas party and from President Mahmoud Abbas' rival Fatah Party condemned the arrest.

Saeb Erekat, a Fatah lawmaker, said Shaer's arrest was hurting efforts by the moderate Abbas to form a coalition with the Islamic Hamas party. Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas is "finding it embarrassing to negotiate while his colleagues are jail," Erekat said.

Ghazi Hamad, a spokesman for the Hamas government, said Israel wants to arrest the entire Cabinet.

"They wont be satisfied with any government headed by Hamas or headed by Fatah or headed by a new coalition, so I think they want to undermine the political regime, the Palestinian political regime," Hamad said.

Egypt, which often acts as a mediator between Israel and the Palestinians, also condemned the arrest.

"Israel has to realize that these actions will only lead to spread hatred and extremism, and do not serve the attempts to close the two parties' stances, aiming to make the peace process active again," said Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit said.

Fatah blames Hamas for unity government impasse
Fatah officials said Friday that negotiations on a possible national unity government with Hamas have failed, blaming the impasse on the Islamic group, which they claim are making impossible demands.

During the talks, Hamas insisted on keeping all key ministerial positions, including prime minister.

Fatah members say the discussions over a unity government and the preservation of the tahadiya ("lull" in the fighting with Israel) are all in the realm of spin orchestrated by Hamas and by Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, who seek to ward off a potential IDF operation in Gaza.

Hamas is also demanding that the establishment of a unity government bring the end of the international community's policy of isolating the Hamas-led PA.

U.S. officials rejected this demand out of hand, telling Abbas that they would not agree to recognize a unity government unless it fulfilled three conditions: recognition of Israel, official acceptance of all previously signed agreements between it and the Palestinians, and forswearing all forms of violence.

Hamas official Osama al-Muzaini told Reuters that Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh had handed Abbas a letter outlining Hamas's vision for a unity government.

"Any government must be headed by Hamas and the majority of seats should be for Hamas," Muzaini said. "It is reasonable given the fact that Hamas is the majority in parliament," he said, adding that they were not absolute conditions.

Azzam al-Ahmed, the head of Fatah's parliamentary bloc, said there could be no talks on a unity government until there was "a common political agenda", adding that Hamas leaders had made clear they had not changed their stance.

"Hamas is talking about annexing other groups to their government and not about forming a unity coalition. I say in the name of Fatah that we will not accept to be an annex to the government, we want to be partners," he said.