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Palestinians Say Israeli Forces Have Arrested Hamas Government Officials

Israel has rounded up dozens of members of the Palestinians' ruling party Hamas, following the kidnap of an Israeli soldier on Sunday. Israel is also expanding its military offensive in the Gaza Strip.

Israeli troops arrested more than 60 Hamas officials in a blitz through the West Bank. Seven of those detained are Cabinet ministers. Israel blames the Hamas-led government for this week's kidnapping of a 19-year-old Israeli soldier in a daring attack on an army base near Gaza because Hamas gunmen were involved.

Israeli spokesman Ra'anan Gissin says Hamas is a terrorist regime and will be treated accordingly.

"There is a government in the Palestinian Authority, an elected government and an elected chairman that were elected by popular vote and therefore they bear the formal responsibility both for the territory and the people and for whatever happens in that territory. So we hold them responsible," said Gissin.

Israel is also pointing its finger at Syria. Israeli warplanes buzzed the home of Syrian President Bashar Assad because he harbors Hamas leaders in exile. Israeli officials say the Syrian-based Hamas leadership ordered the kidnapping of the soldier.

In Gaza, Israeli forces are preparing to expand the military offensive. After deploying troops in southern Gaza and launching air strikes that destroyed bridges and a power station, the army plans to deploy in northern Gaza, an area from where rockets are often fired at Israel. Israeli planes dropped leaflets in the area warning residents to stay indoors because of impending military action.

Palestinian analyst Bassam Eid says Israel's offensive is a disproportionate and hasty response to the abduction of the soldier.

"I think that Israel just hurry up right now with its military invasion right now in Gaza, and in my opinion Israel didn't give enough time for the diplomatic initiatives to bring for the release of the soldier," said Eid.

There is speculation that Israel might have seized the Hamas officials as bargaining chips to exchange for the release of the captive soldier. So far, the kidnappers say the soldier will only be released in exchange for hundreds of Palestinian prisoners.

Adding to the concern over the soldier's welfare is the fate of an 18-year-old Jewish settler abducted earlier this week in the West Bank. He was executed by Palestinian gunmen.