RAMALLAH, West Bank (Reuters) -Israel seized Palestinian Deputy Prime Minister Naser al-Shaer, a top official of the Hamas militant group, at his home in the occupied West Bank on Saturday.
Hours later, a Palestinian gunman killed an Israeli soldier in a driveby shooting near the West Bank city of Nablus, the army and medics said. There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack.
Israel has more than two dozen Hamas lawmakers and several other cabinet ministers in custody since late June, after it launched an offensive in response to the kidnapping of a soldier in a cross-border raid from the Gaza Strip.
Violence has continued in the West Bank and Gaza Strip since war broke out with Lebanese Hizbollah guerillas on Israel’s northern border after two soldiers were abducted on July 12 in a cross-border raid. A ceasefire came into effect on Monday.
An Israeli army spokesman confirmed troops had taken al-Shaer into custody, saying it was “due to his membership in a terrorist organization.”
Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, a Hamas leader, condemned the arrest and said government and people would remained undaunted.
“Israel’s aims to undermine the Palestinian political system and to put obstacles before the government and the people … This is blackmail but we are determined to continue our march,” Haniyeh said.
Huda al-Shaer, the official’s wife, said he was picked up at their home in the West Bank town of Ramallah.
She told Reuters that “several jeeps circled the house before dawn” then troops came to the door.
An officer told her after checking their identity documents, “‘sorry Madame, but your husband has to come with us’. He let him first say goodbye to our four children,” al-Shaer said.
Two lawmakers from Hamas, a militant group that seeks Israel’s destruction and swept to power in the Palestinian Authority in March elections, also confirmed al-Shaer had been seized by Israeli forces.
Saeb Erekat, the top Palestinian negotiator, condemned the arrest and said “this complicates” a recent bid by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to forge a Palestinian unity government, to ease a Western aid embargo against the Hamas government.
The boycott is designed to push the militant group to recognize Israel’s right to exist, renounce violence and accept past peace accords.
Israel seized dozens of Hamas cabinet ministers and lawmakers after militants abducted Corporal Gilad Shalit on June 25. Many were later freed. Al-Shaer had been on the wanted list but had not been found, Palestinian sources said.
Israeli troops killed three Palestinian militants on Friday, and three Hamas members died in the town of Jenin when a bomb they were preparing exploded prematurely, local security officials said.