Palestinian security forces arrested 36 Hamas supporters, many of them professors and students, the Islamic group said Thursday, widening a crackdown by the Western-backed Palestinian president. The sweep is part of an apparent effort by Mahmoud Abbas to show he is fulfilling his commitments under the US-backed "road map" peace plan at a time when US President Barack Obama has been pushing both sides to make progress. The crackdown also comes as Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu prepares to give a key policy speech Sunday. Since the Hamas takeover, Abbas' forces have arrested hundreds of Hamas activists, shut down Hamas-affiliated institutions and tried to dry up the group's funding. In the last two weeks, a pair of deadly shootouts between security forces and Hamas gunmen resisting arrest in the West Bank town of Kalkilya left nine dead, including four police officers. The latest sweep, which began Wednesday, included 17 students from a United Nations-run teachers' institute, Hamas said. Palestinian police spokesman Adnan Damiri confirmed arrests were made, but did not say how many people were held. He denied the arrests were political, saying those rounded up were tied to crimes involving handling weapons and money for Hamas or "incitement against the Palestinian Authority." Political analyst Hani al-Masri said Abbas' focus on security serves to show Obama that he is serious about peace talks, while drawing attention away from internal Palestinian divisions. "Security is the only winning card in the hand of the Palestinian Authority now," he said. "Most of the arrests have nothing to do with security." According to Damiri, the Palestinian Authority is currently holding about 300 Hamas members. Hamas says the number is over 700. Meanwhile, In Gaza, a Palestinian died from lack of oxygen while working in a smuggling tunnel under the border between Egypt and Gaza. Over 20 people have died in the tunnels so far this year.