Israel Arrests Palestinian Parliament Speaker in Gaza Offensive

Palestinian officials said Israeli forces arrested the speaker of the Palestinian parliament at his house early Sunday, alongside a day of Israeli military operations in the Gaza Strip, part of a monthlong offensive against Hamas.

The officials — the director of the speaker's office and security officers — said about 20 Israeli army vehicles surrounded the house of parliament speaker Abdel Aziz Duaik, a member of Hamas, and took him into custody.

The Israeli military said that as a Hamas leader, he was a target for arrest.

On June 29, Israeli forces in the West Bank rounded up dozens of Hamas officials, including eight Cabinet ministers. One was released earlier this week.

Since then, Israeli forces have twice surrounded Duaik's house but failed to arrest him..

In a statement, Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas called the arrest "another crime of piracy by the (Israeli) occupation against the elected representatives of our people" and called for international parliamentary action to win release for him and the other arrested officials.

The roundup was part of Israel's campaign against Hamas since a June 25 cross-border raid in which Hamas-lined militants killed two Israeli soldiers and captured another. The militant Islamic group said Saturday it would not allow Red Cross officials to visit the captured soldier.

Israel has demanded the release of the soldier and an end to the firing of homemade rockets at Israel by Gaza militants.

Israeli ground forces have moved in and out of several parts of the territory regularly since then, confronting armed militants and leaving behind considerable destruction.

In Gaza, Israeli tanks and troops conducted searches and sweeps in southern Gaza for a third day. Early Sunday, a teenager was killed and three adults seriously wounded in an airstrike at the eastern edge of the town of Rafah on the Gaza-Egypt border, hospital officials said.

On Saturday airstrikes killed six Palestinians, including a mother and her two children, and tanks rolled to the edge of Rafah, officials said.

Seventeen Palestinians have been killed since Israeli troops and tanks moved back into southern Gaza three days ago.

In the first airstrike a 16-year-old girl, Kifah Natour, and her brother, Amar, 15, were killed said Dr. Ali Musa, the director of the local hospital. Their mother, Huda, 50, later died of her wounds. Four other people, including their 13-year-old brother, were seriously wounded when the missile hit.

Musa said the family was trying to flee their home as Israeli tanks advanced.

The army said it had targeted groups of militants.

A 19-year-old militant from the Islamic Jihad and a 21-year-old Hamas gunman were killed in two other airstrikes in the area, their groups said.

The Red Cross requested last week to visit Israeli Cpl. Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier being held by Hamas-linked militants. A Red Cross official said the request was made in a meeting with Palestinian factions in Gaza, but it was denied without explanation.

On Saturday, Hamas said in a statement that such a visit was "not appropriate at a time when more than 10,000 Palestinian families are denied to visit their prisoners."

The army could not immediately provide details of its policy on prisoner visits, but said in principle visits were allowed, subject to unspecified security considerations.

Israeli Cabinet minister Ophir Pines said there could be no comparison between Hamas holding a soldier in a secret hideout without access to humanitarian organizations and Israel's custody of Palestinians accused of terrorist activity.

"We allow people to see Palestinian prisoners," he told The Associated Press. "We allow in many cases their families to visit, we hold them in prisons, people know where they are and we allow access by international organizations."

Hamas has said it would release the soldier released some Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails, particularly women and children. Moussa Abu Marzouk, deputy head of Hamas' political bureau in Syria told The Associated Press Saturday, "The exchange of prisoners is not coming soon."