The precisely-coordinated operations were executed in Ramallah, Jenin, Jerusalem, Shechem, Kalkilyeh, Bethlehem, Hevron and other towns throughout Judea and Samaria, starting shortly after midnight.

Among those captured in simultaneous operations in many PA cities are members of the PA government and parliament, and senior Hamas movement leaders.

Israel emphasized that the arrests were not in order to obtain "trading cards" in exchange for the abducted soldier Gilad Shalit, but were rather routine police arrests of criminals suspected of membership in a terrorist organization. "Anyone who is found to be innocent will be released," Israeli sources said.

While top Hamas leaders in Gaza have gone into hiding, Hamas spokesmen responded publicly with hysteria. "This is a revolution against human and democratic values," Hamas spokesman Mushir Al-Masri told Al-Jazeera. "This is an international crime and an open declaration of war against the Palestinian nation [sic]... The international community must speak out. Where are the Arab and Moslem countries? The arrrest of the ministers and legislators is not just a blow agains the Palestinian Authority, but against the sovereignty of the parliaments and governments of all the Arab, Moslem and free nations."

Among those in Israeli custody as of Thursday morning are: Nasser A-Din Sha'ar, deputy to Hamas Authority government head Ismail Haniyeh; Muhammed Barghouti, minister of labor; Khaled Abu-Arfa, minister for Jerusalem affairs; Muhammed Abu-Tir [large photo] and Mahmoud Atwan, the PA legislators in Jerusalem who were instructed by Israeli authorities in May to either leave the city or quit Hamas; as well as many other PA government members and most of the members of the Jerusalem-Ramallah area Hamas faction in the Palestinian Authority legislature.

Some were arrested in their cars, and most in their homes.

Former US mediator Dennis Ross says that Israel must not negotiate with Hamas for the release of the soldier, as "this will merely invite further kidnappings... As someone who believes in the value of negotiations, I say that negotiations are not the proper response in every situation."

Former PA negotiator and Abbas-associate Saeb Erekat complained that Israel's operation had left the PA with no leadership. “We have no government, we have nothing,” he said. "They have all been taken. This is absolutely unacceptable."

France has condemned the arrests of the Hamas leaders. The soldier who was kidnapped by Hamas, Gilad Shalit, holds French citizenship, and France's Ambassador in Israel has visited the Shalit family in its Galilee home.

Russia and China have called upon Hamas to release the abducted soldier. Pope Benedict XVI has called for the release of "all those who were kidnapped."