"If the Israelis want a deal, they should declare it and then we will respond."
By YAAKOV KATZ, JPOSTLEO GIOSUÈCOM STAFF, AP
Hamas representative in Lebanon Osama Hamdan stressed on Thursday afternoon that it was "too early" to talk about a captive swap deal involving kidnapped Cpl. Gilad Shalit and the 60 senior Hamas officials who were arrested by the IDF the previous night.
"If the Israelis want to carry out a swap deal, they should declare it explicitly and then we will respond," said Hamdan.
Tibi: Arrest raid 'a macho display of strength'
Meanwhile, the detained Hamas ministers and MPs declared a hunger strike indefinitely.
French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy condemned the arrest of the Hamas officials, saying that diplomacy was the only solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and that political figures should not be arrested.
Israel stated that the arrests were made as part of a criminal investigation into the Hamas officials' involvement in a terrorist organization. Israeli officials insisted that the detainees would be entitled to legal representation, and would be released if suspicions against them were proved unfounded.
Detainees included such senior figures as Finance Minister Omar Abdel Razek, Labor Minister Muhammad Barghouti, parliament member Mohammed Abu Teir and the mayors of Kalkilya and Jenin. Army Radio revealed that Deputy Prime Minister Naser a-Din Shaer was not arrested, as was reported earlier.
After their arrests in Ramallah, Nablus, and Bethlehem, security forces took them to a military detention camp to be interrogated under the suspicion of being involved in terror activities against Israel.
OC Central Command Maj.-Gen. Yair Naveh told Army Radio that IDF troops surrounded a building in Ramallah where some 20 Hamas members were staying. They surrendered without a fight, he said. He added that the arrests were to continue in the future days.
Interior Minister Roni Bar-On emphasized Thursday morning, in an interview to Israel Radio, that accusations claiming the men were arrested to be used as bargaining chips to be dealt in exchange for the release of Gilad Shalit were baseless.
Bar-On added that if enough evidence was found tying the men to terror activity, they would stand trial in Israel.
Within the IDF, however, conflicting voices gave the impression that the men could possibly be used as bargaining chips. Other sources said that the detainees would certainly not be released in exchange for the soldier, and that they were arrested for their involvement in a terror organization.
In a meeting in Moscow on Thursday, foreign ministers of the G8 nations unanimously condemned the abduction of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit in the Gaza Strip and asked the Palestinian government to "take immediate measures" to free him.
The group also asked Israel "to exercise utmost restraint in the current crisis. The detention of elected members of the Palestinian government and Legislature raises particular concern."
The United States has not issued its own separate response, but Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice signed on to the joint statement, which contains coded criticism of Israel.
At a news conference following lengthy meetings with the diplomats from Russia, Germany, the United Kingdom, the United States, Italy, France, Canada and Japan, Rice noted the call for restraint from Israel.
"With restraint, perhaps, we can get back to a place where there are hopes again for a peace process," Rice said.
UAL MK Ahmed Tibi on Thursday called the massive arrest operations "a macho display of strength."
He stated that the operation had nothing to do with the release of Shalit and added that it would only lead to a deterioration in the situation and additional bloodshed.
A Hamas military-wing spokesman in the West Bank responded Thursday morning by saying that the arrests would not bring about Shalit's release, and that Hamas was still demanding the release of female Palestinian prisoners, as well as prisoners under the age of 18, from Israeli prisons.
Palestinian sources claimed that the arrests were an Israeli attempt to negate the election results in which Hamas came to power in the Palestinian Legislative Council.
In addition, PA Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh convened an emergency meeting of government members in Gaza. An unofficial response said that, "Israel is targeting Hamas' political wing, which wasn't involved in the kidnapping [of IDF Cpl. Gilad Shalit]."
"Israel is heading in the wrong direction, and will pay for it," the response continued.
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