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Israel intensifies raids in Gaza

The Israeli army arrested several ministers in the Hamas-led government and members of the parliament after raiding their homes.

india Updated: Jun 29, 2006 13:29 IST

Israel intensified air strikes on the Gaza Strip before dawn on Thursday, while its army arrested several ministers in the Hamas-led government and members of the parliament after raiding their homes.

Palestinian security sources said F16 warplanes fired at least one missile at a playground into the Islamic University of Gaza, which is run by Islamic leaders said to be members in Hamas movement. No injuries were reported.

The F16 warplanes kept flying over several areas in the Gaza Strip and fired three other missiles at different unpopulated areas in central and southeast Gaza Strip.

Palestinians reported loud explosions as Israel attacked four roads in the south and an "open area" on the outskirts of Gaza City, an army spokeswoman said.

She said the army targeted roads at a total of four locations near the southern Gaza town of Khan Younis and the nearby former Jewish settlement of Morag to block the transfer of a captured Israeli soldier held by militants presumably in Gaza's most southern area of Rafah.

The attack at an open field on Gaza City's outskirts was also part of a widespread offensive, begun early on Wednesday and aimed at pressuring the militant groups holding the soldier to release him, the army said.

Meanwhile, the Israeli army rounded up dozens of Palestinian cabinet ministers and lawmakers from the Islamic movement Hamas in the West Bank in a major arrest campaign early on Thursday, according to Hamas official sources.

The arrests included at least six ministers and 15 lawmakers.

Deputy Prime Minister Nasser Eddin Shaer, Minister of Finance Omar Abdul Razek, Minister of Waqf Nayef Rjoub, Minister of Labour Muhammad Barghouti and Minister of Housing Abdul Rahman Zeidan were all arrested in Ramallah.

Minister of Jerusalem Affairs Khaled Abu Arafeh and three other Jerusalem lawmakers were arrested at their homes in East Jerusalem, said the sources.

The campaign, which was still ongoing, included three lawmakers from Nablus, two from Ramallah, two from Hebron, two from Tulkarm and two from Bethlehem.

The campaign is expected to include all Hamas lawmakers and cabinet members in the West Bank as army troops were seen surrounding the house of Mahmoud Ramahi, secretary of the Palestinian Legislative Council.

Shortly before midnight, Israeli planes dropped leaflets over the northern Gaza towns of Beit Hanoun and Beit Lahiya and Khan Younis in the south, warning residents in Arabic to clear no-go areas to avoid injury. A warehouse east of Khan Younis belonging to the armed wing of the ruling Palestinian Hamas movement and storing locally produced Qassam rockets also was hit before midnight.

In addition, tanks stationed on the northern border fired artillery shells at northern Gaza to prevent militants from launching Qassam rockets into Israel from the area. Tanks and ground troops massed along the northern border were on alert, but had not crossed the border, the army said.

The latest air strikes came after Israeli missiles destroyed Gaza City's main electricity transformer plant and troops and tanks crossed the southern Gaza border early Wednesday, pushing some 2 km into the strip and taking Gaza's defunct international airport.