IDF troops conducted a large-scale arrest operation against Hamas leaders in the West Bank early Thursday morning, arresting 33 Hamas members including the minister of education for Palestinian Authority, four mayors and municipality chairmen and three members of the Palestinian Legislative Council.
The highest ranking of those arrested is Education Minister Nasser al-Deen Shaer. Shaer was arrested after Shalit's kidnapping, but he was later released.
Others arrested include Hamed al-Bitawi, a member of the Palestinian legislative council and Adly Yaish, mayor of Nablus on behalf of Hamas.
The last time Israel carried out such an operation was following the abduction of
IDF soldier Cpl. Gilad Shalit in June 2006. Other than al-Shaer, others arrested at the time were Labor Minister Muhammad Barghouti, Minister of Jerusalem Affairs Khaled Abu Arfa, Mahmoud Abu Tir, Mahmoud Atuan and most of Hamas' representatives to the Palestinian Legislative Council.
Al-Shaer was taken from his home, said his wife, Huda. "Five army jeeps arrived and asked for his ID. He identified himself and they took him," Huda said. "I asked them, 'Why are you taking him'. The officer said, 'We have orders'."
Meanwhile similar arrests were made in other West Bank cities. In Qalqiliya forces arrested Mayor Wajih Quawas and in the village of Beita, adjacent to Nablus, they arrested Muarab el-Shurfa, who heads the local municipality.
The army confirmed that arrests had been made in the region but gave no further details.
Much of Hamas' leadership was arrested by the IDF after Shalit's abduction and some are still imprisoned. In Israel officials hinted that no one in Hamas' leadership should see himself untouchable as the movement intensifies its Qassam attacks from Gaza on Israel's south – killing a young woman earlier this week and wounding dozens.
The government authorized stepping up measures against the groups launching Qassams, including possible strikes against Hamas and Islamic Jihad leaders.
A meeting between Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Hamas representatives and members of various Palestinian factions late Wednesday night reached a dead end and no agreement was reached as the factions refused to stop launching rockets at Israel, saying that the calm must be mutual.
Reuters contributed to this report