Israel seized Palestinian Deputy Prime Minister Naser al-Shaer, a top official of the Hamas militant group, at his home in the occupied West Bank yesterday.
Hours later, a Palestinian gunman killed an Israeli soldier near the West Bank city of Nablus and was then shot dead by troops, the army and medics said. There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack.
Israel has held more than two dozen Hamas lawmakers and several other Cabinet ministers in custody since late June, after it launched an offensive in response to the kidnapping of a soldier in a cross-border raid from the Gaza Strip.
Violence has continued in the West Bank and Gaza Strip since war broke out with Lebanese Hezbollah guerrillas on Israel's northern border after two soldiers were abducted on July 12 in a cross-border raid. A ceasefire came into effect last Monday.
An Israeli army spokesman confirmed that troops had taken al-Shaer into custody, saying it was "due to his membership in a terrorist organization."
Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, a Hamas leader, condemned the arrest and said the government and people would remained undaunted.
"Israel aims to undermine the Palestinian political system and to put obstacles before the government and the people ... This is blackmail but we are determined to continue our march," Haniyeh said.
Huda al-Shaer, the official's wife, said he was picked up at their home in the West Bank town of Ramallah.
She said that "several jeeps circled the house before dawn" then troops came to the door.
An officer told her after checking their identity documents, "`Sorry madame, but your husband has to come with us.' He let him first say goodbye to our four children," Huda al-Shaer said.
Two lawmakers from Hamas, a militant group that seeks Israel's destruction and swept to power in the Palestinian Authority in March elections, also confirmed Naser al-Shaer had been seized by Israeli forces.
Saeb Erekat, the top Palestinian negotiator, condemned the arrest and said "this complicates" a recent bid by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to forge a Palestinian unity government to ease a Western aid embargo against the Hamas government.
The boycott is designed to force the militant group to recognize Israel's right to exist and to renounce violence and accept past peace accords.
Israel seized dozens of Hamas Cabinet ministers and lawmakers after militants abducted Corporal Gilad Shalit on June 25.
Many were later freed. Naser al-Shaer had been on the wanted list but had not been found, Palestinian sources said.
Israeli troops killed three Palestinian militants on Friday, and three Hamas members died in the town of Jenin when a bomb they were preparing exploded prematurely, local security officials said.
Meanwhile, Israeli police arrested a Palestinian with ties to the Islamic Jihad militant group who is suspected of stabbing to death an Italian tourist, a spokesman said yesterday.
Angelo Frammartino, 24, from the town of Monte Rotondo, near Rome, was fatally stabbed in Jerusalem's Old City on Aug. 10. He was walking with one or two women near the Damascus Gate when he was attacked.