JERUSALEM — Israeli troops early today arrested the Palestinian Authority's deputy prime minister, the highest-ranking official to be seized since Israel began arresting Hamas members who are figures in the Palestinian government.
Nasser Shaer was taken into custody after troops surrounded his home in the West Bank city of Ramallah before dawn, the army said. No shots were fired during the raid, according to the military, which said Shaer was picked up for being a member of a terrorist organization.
Shaer had mostly been in hiding since Israel arrested more than two dozen Cabinet members and lawmakers nearly two months ago, shortly after the start of an Israeli offensive in the Gaza Strip.
The offensive was launched after Palestinian militants abducted an Israeli soldier in a cross-border raid just outside Gaza on June 25.
One of the militant factions involved in the abduction was Hamas' military wing, and Israel says it holds the Hamas-led government responsible for the continued captivity of Cpl. Gilad Shalit.
The arrests are thought to be part of a campaign to pressure the Hamas leadership to bring about Shalit's release. Israel has also bombed Palestinian government ministries in Gaza and threatened to target Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh.
Palestinian officials, including those with the Fatah-run executive branch, have condemned the arrests. Shaer's detention comes at a time when Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who is considered a political moderate, is trying to form a "national unity" government with Hamas.
Palestinians hope that the entry of other political groups into the government will help ease a near-total economic embargo of the Palestinian Authority. Hamas is considered a terrorist organization by the United States, Israel and European governments, which imposed sanctions because Hamas refuses to renounce violence and recognize Israel's right to exist.