Israel insists that the 33 Hamas officials arrested in a security crackdown in the West Bank on Thursday morning were linked to terror, even though they are nominally members of Hamas's political wing. The sweep, which came ahead of the weekend detention of Hamas minister Wafsi Qabha in Jenin, was criticized by the US State Department. An official in the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, while acknowledging that the US is allowed to criticize Israeli actions, said, "at the end of the day the US and the State Department agree that Hamas is a terrorist organization. The people arrested were linked to financing terror and laundering money for terrorists." The official explained that Israel was aware that the 33 Hamas officials arrested were politicians, but noted that politicians can also be active members of a terrorist organization. "The detention of elected members of the Palestinian government and legislature does raise particular concerns for us," State Department Deputy Spokesman Tom Casey told reporters. "While we understand and respect Israel's need to defend itself, we do wish to have them take into consideration the consequences of their actions, including [their] effect on the ability to promote the kind of dialogue that we want to see happen," Casey said. Casey added that US officials in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem had conveyed the American position on the arrests to the Israeli government. Casey prefaced his remarks by noting that, "Hamas is a foreign terrorist organization and engaged in ongoing attacks on Israel." During the recent violence in Gaza, the Bush administration has repeatedly stressed Israel's right to defend itself against rocket fire from Hamas. Among those rounded up Thursday were PA Education Minister Nasser Al Shaer, former cabinet minister Abdel Rahman Zeidan, legislators Hamed Bitawi and Daoud Abu Ser, the mayors of Nablus, Kalkilya and Beita, and the head of Nablus's main Islamic charity, Fayad al-Arba. Defense Minister Amir Peretz said the arrests were part of Israel's attempt to neutralize Hamas. "Arrests are better than shooting," he said. Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas said the arrests were a blow to peace efforts, and a spokesman for PA Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh demanded the immediate release of the detainees and called on the UN and European Union to impose sanctions on Israel. AP contributed to this report.

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