More than 130 Palestinians were rounded up and arrested in Hebron Tuesday as Israeli military forces continued their crack down on the Hamas terror network.
Anyone in the West Bank city with even remote Hamas (search) connections — including having relatives in the organization — were taken away by the Israelis, according to Palestinian residents.
Israeli troops arrested also 30 other suspected militants in other parts of the West Bank.
"It is an Israeli madness aimed at undermining any move forward," Palestinian cabinet minister Yasser Abed Rabbo (search) told Reuters. "These arrests are an attempt to sabotage the understanding with Hamas. Israel does not want a ceasefire."
Khaled Amayreh, a pro-Islamic journalist who lives near Hebron, told Reuters that many of those detained were Hamas sympathizers rather than activists. He said they included elderly men, some women and young teenagers.
The arrests came just days after Israeli troops shot and killed Abdullah Kawasm (search), the militant group's leader in Hebron. Israel blames him for the deaths of 52 Israelis.
Palestinian officials said the sweep came as Hamas and other militant groups neared an agreement to stop attacks on Israelis.
It calls for Palestinian statehood by 2005, but the effort been slowed by the two sides' inability to end 33 months of fighting. Both the Israeli and Palestinian governments have demanded the other side start moving toward the plan's goals first.
Rumors that a cease-fire arrangement may come from Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas (search) talks with Palestinian militant groups predominated Monday and Tuesday. Abbas is seen by Western leaders as key to ending the fighting.
But Abdel-Aziz al-Rantissi (search), a Hamas leader wounded in an Israeli assassination attempt on June 10, told Reuters: "We are facing a Zionist assault and it is not logical to ask us to accept a truce under these conditions."
An agreement to suspend the militants' armed uprising could be a major breakthrough and a way out. But Israeli officials are highly skeptical and say a truce is just a ploy by militants to win time to prepare for more shootings and bombings.
One Palestinian mediator said Monday that the truce would be open-ended and apply not only to Israel, but also the West Bank and Gaza Strip — a key condition for Israel.
Palestinian militants have generally considered any Israeli in the occupied territories, whether military or civilian, and of any age or gender, as a fair target.
However, a leader of one of the armed groups said that Hamas would only accept a three-month truce. Leaders of the smaller Islamic Jihad group were trying to persuade activists to accept a limited deal, but were facing stiff opposition, he said.
Palestinian officials, including Foreign Minister Nabil Shaath and Cabinet Minister Yasser Abed Rabbo, said they expected a positive response by the militias.
Another Hamas leader, Mahmoud Zahar (search), said, "the decision will hopefully come very soon."
Hamas dismissed earlier Egyptian-brokered truce efforts, but the largest Islamic militant group has been feeling the squeeze after the Iraq war.
Washington and the White House have strongly urged Arab nations to stop funding Hamas. Syria closed the Damascus offices of Palestinian militant groups, and Israel has been assassinating Hamas leaders.
A Palestinian leader, Marwan Barghouti, has been writing cease-fire proposals from his Israeli prison cell, according to a source close to the negotiations. Barghouti, formerly viewed as a moderate, is on trial by Israel for alleged involvement in attacks that killed 26 Israelis, a charge he denies.
Palestinian security minister Mohammed Dahlan told Israel TV's Channel 10 that the agreement would call for a halt to attacks against Israelis in the West Bank and Gaza as well as Israel.
Barghouti's involvement would probably mean that another militia, the Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade (search), which is linked to Palestinian President Yasser Arafat's mainstream Fatah (search) organization, also would honor a truce, which could make it easier for Hamas to accept.
But Israeli officials said a Hamas-Abbas deal might not be acceptable to them, noting that under the peace plan, the Palestinian Authority must disarm militias, not court them.
At best, Israel would accept an internal Palestinian arrangement as a brief precursor to a crackdown, officials said.
A top Israeli security official said the truce talks give Hamas too much leverage.
"It's unacceptable for the Palestinian Authority, Israel and the United States to agree to a situation in which a certain Hamas leader decides when progress [on the road map] will be made," said Maj. Gen. Amos Gilad. "It's an easy solution that will cost us in blood."
In the Gaza Strip, troops on Tuesday shot and wounded a Palestinian trying to crawl under the fence of a Jewish settlement, an army spokesman said. The man was found to be carrying two knives, the army said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.