- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 19, 2006

RAMALLAH, West Bank — Israeli soldiers burst into the home of the Palestinian deputy prime minister before dawn yesterday and took him away for questioning, detaining the highest-ranking Hamas official in a seven-week-old crackdown against the ruling Islamic militant group.

Palestinian officials condemned the arrest of Nasser Shaer, a former university professor known as a pragmatist in Hamas, and accused Israel of undermining their efforts to form a broad government coalition.

Israel launched its latest crackdown against Hamas, which controls the Palestinian legislature and Cabinet, shortly after Hamas-allied militants from the Gaza Strip captured an Israeli soldier in a cross-border raid June 25. Despite an ongoing Israeli military offensive in the coastal area, the soldier has not been freed.

The Israelis have arrested eight Hamas Cabinet ministers and more than two dozen lawmakers, including the speaker of parliament, since late June.

But Mr. Shaer, 45, eluded arrest until yesterday.

Mr. Shaer’s wife, Huda, 43, said he was seized at an apartment where his family, including six children, had been hiding for several weeks. She said the family had cut off contact with friends in Ramallah and rarely ventured outside. The army confirmed the arrest.

Mr. Shaer, who holds a doctorate in comparative religions from England’s Manchester University, is considered to be among the more pragmatic members of the Hamas government. He also serves as education minister.

The international community has cut off funds to the Hamas government and said aid would only be restored if Hamas renounces violence and recognizes Israel.

Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas called on the international community, including the United Nations, to secure Mr. Shaer’s release.

In other developments yesterday, a Palestinian gunman attacked and killed an Israeli soldier in the West Bank, before being shot and killed himself, the army said.

The Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a small militant group, claimed responsibility for the attack, which occurred near an Israeli settlement in the northern Jordan Valley.

In Gaza, hundreds of members of the Palestinian security forces briefly stormed banks and burned tires, demanding the banks return money deducted from a small cash advance they received after months of going without wages.

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