Palestinians Say Israeli Forces Have Arrested Hamas Government Officials

Palestinian security officials say Israeli forces have arrested several ministers and lawmakers of the Hamas-led Palestinian government, including Deputy Prime Minister Nasser Shaer, amid widening Israeli military operations in the northern Gaza Strip.

Officials said the arrests occurred early Thursday in an Israeli raid on a complex of buildings in the West Bank city of Ramallah.

The new developments came as Israel ramped up military operations in the Gaza Strip in an effort to rescue a soldier kidnapped by Palestinian militants on Sunday. Israeli forces launched new air strikes in the southern Gaza Strip, targeting a weapons factory in town of Khan Younis.

Palestinian officials have denounced the Gaza offensive, but Israel says it is a rescue operation to find the soldier and blames an exiled Hamas leader, Khaled Mashaal, living in Syria for his kidnapping.

Four Israeli warplanes flew over Syrian President Bashar Assad's home in the northwest Syrian port city of Latakia Wednesday to pressure him to work for the release of the soldier. Syria called the flyover an aggressive act and said its air defenses fired on the planes.

Separately, Palestinian militants say they have executed an Israeli settler who was abducted in the West Bank. The militants from the Popular Resistance Committees in Gaza had threatened to execute the Israeli settler if Israel did not halt its offensive in Gaza.

As tensions over the hostage-taking built, the Hamas government proposed a prisoner swap to resolve the situation but Israel has not publicly responded to the offer.

Some information for this report provided by AFP and AP.