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Israel Arrests Senior Hamas Militant in Widening Crackdown

Israel has arrested a senior member of the Islamic militant group Hamas in a widening crackdown in the West Bank. The arrest occurred as Hamas, which seized control of the Gaza Strip last week, sought to resume a dialogue with the rival Palestinian Fatah faction. Robert Berger reports from the VOA bureau in Jerusalem.

Israeli troops stormed into the home of a senior Hamas militant and arrested him in a pre-dawn raid. He was identified as Saleh Aruri, the founder of the Hamas military wing in the West Bank.

The forces of U.S.-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas have also detained dozens of Hamas activists in the West Bank since the militant group seized control of Gaza last week. Hamas accuses Israel and Mr. Abbas of collaborating to crush the group in the West Bank.

Israel carried out frequent raids on Hamas and other militants in the West Bank long before the Hamas takeover of Gaza, with the aim of preventing suicide bombings in Israeli cities. But Israeli analyst Gil Yaron says these raids are now serving the interests of both Israel and Mr. Abbas, who heads the Palestinian Fatah faction.

"The key point is the Israeli presence in the West Bank," he noted. "Every night the Israeli Defense Forces are arresting activists from Hamas and basically doing a lot of work for Fatah."

Israel and the international community are backing the West Bank government of Mr. Abbas, a moderate who supports peace talks with the Jewish state. At the same time, they are shunning Hamas, which is regarded as a terrorist organization.

Feeling the isolation, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh appealed to Fatah to open talks on a new power-sharing agreement. A previous national unity government collapsed last week during the Palestinian civil war.

Fatah has rejected the Hamas offer. Mr. Abbas has severed all ties with Hamas, describing the group as "terrorist murderers."

Independent Palestinian legislator Hanan Ashrawi says the Hamas military coup in Gaza has closed the door on dialogue.

"To see a faction, a major faction, resort to violence, to take over national institutions, including the security institutions, this certainly is an attempt to undermine democracy and to use force and power in order to dictate," he said.

In a further crackdown on Hamas, Mr. Abbas has ordered all private organizations to apply for new operating permits. Organizations in the West Bank, which are funded by Hamas could be shut down.