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Israel pounds Gaza, arrests Palestinian minister

Israel seizes a cabinet minister and strikes Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip as part of a campaign against the ruling Islamist group.

world Updated: May 26, 2007 12:58 IST

Israel seized a minister in Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh's cabinet on Saturday and pounded Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip as part of an expanded campaign against the ruling Islamist group.

Palestinian Minister of State Wasfi Kabha of Hamas was arrested overnight in his village near the West Bank city of Jenin, a Palestinian security official said.

The Israeli army said it arrested a Hamas member overnight but did not identify him.

Kabha was the second cabinet minister to be seized by Israeli forces since Thursday, when troops arrested Education Minister Naser al-Shaer of Hamas and 32 other officials in the West Bank. The arrests have raised concerns in Washington and at the United Nations.

In the Gaza Strip, Israel carried out five air strikes early on Saturday morning, hitting militia posts and a guardhouse outside Haniyeh's home, witnesses said. At least three people, all passers-by, were hurt, doctors said.

The barrage came hours after Hamas's armed wing and other militant factions said they were considering a proposal by moderate President Mahmoud Abbas for a ceasefire in Gaza.

Previously, militants had said that in order to revive a Gaza truce declared in November, Israel must also agree to ceasing hostilities in the occupied West Bank, another territory where Palestinians seek statehood. Israel rebuffed that demand.

After crisis talks with Abbas's Fatah faction, militants said they could accept a new, mutual ceasefire in Gaza alone. According to Fatah, they gave Israel until Sunday to respond.

"The next 48 hours will be decisive for determining which way the factions are going, and it will depend on Israel and whether it wants to stop its aggression," said Fatah spokesman Abdel-Hakim Awad.

But the militants denied any commitments had been made. They said they were weighing a proposal made by the moderate Abbas for a trial month-long truce in Gaza.

Israeli officials were not immediately available for comment. Since violence surged earlier this month, Israel has rejected calls for a ceasefire, instead lobbying foreign powers to pressure the Hamas-led government to back down.

First Published: May 26, 2007 12:33 IST