Israelis Arrest Hamas Minister

The new Hamas Palestinian government found itself under growing pressure yesterday as Israel arrested one of its cabinet ministers.

It came a day after the new Hamas prime minister, Ismail Haniyeh, admitted that the financial squeeze on his government was beginning to bite. He said the Palestinian territories’ treasury could not afford March’s wage bill for civil servants.

Detained: Khaled Abu Arafa
Israeli soldiers yesterday detained Khaled Abu Arafa, the new Palestinian minister for Jerusalem, as he was driving through the West Bank. He was held for five hours but not questioned before being released.

Israel’s explanation that he was held because of irregularities with his travel documents was dismissed by a Hamas spokesman, who described the arrest as deliberate attempt at intimidation.

“The arrest of a cabinet minister proves the falseness of Israel’s arguments that it seeks peace,” said Ghazi Hamad, the Palestinian cabinet spokesman.

Hamas also continues to feud with its main rival, Fatah. Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president who leads Fatah, yesterday issued a presidential decree to assume control of Gaza’s border with Egypt.

Sources in his office said it was because of a worsening security situation at the Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt, which had led to terrorists and terrorist weapons entering Gaza.

But the move was also seen as part of a squabble between the Palestinian presidency and cabinet for control of security agencies.

Mr Haniyeh was deeply critical of the president’s move, describing it as an attempt to undercut the authority of the Hamas-led administration.

The row increased the risk of violence between Hamas and Fatah supporters. The situation in Gaza has been highly volatile since Hamas unexpectedly won parliamentary elections in January.