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Israel nabs 20 Hamas operatives in the West Bank

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JERUSALEM – Israeli forces arrested 20 Hamas operatives in the West Bank early Thursday, including at least seven politicians and parliamentarians affiliated with the Islamist group, in what some observers say is an Israeli crackdown aimed at putting more pressure on the Hamas leadership in Gaza to reach a prisoner-exchange deal.

Earlier in the week, talks between Israel and Hamas – taking placing through Egyptian mediators in Cairo – came to a halt after Israel said that Hamas was asking for too much in return for its one captive soldier. Israeli officials said this included Hamas demands to release Palestinian prisoners who were directly involved in planning suicide bombings during the intifada – a request that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said went beyond Israel's "red lines."

Since then, Israeli politicians have floated several options for trying to raise Hamas's incentive to reach a deal. These have included making tighter restrictions on what goes into Gaza – allowing strictly humanitarian aid but no commercial merchandise – and taking away visitation rights of Palestinians held in Israeli jails, to make a point that Israeli army Sgt. Gilad Shalit, held captivity by Hamas since June 2006, has not seen or spoken to his family since.

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