/ 27 January 2012

Israel arrests yet another top Hamas official

An Israeli military court has ordered the speaker of the Palestinian legislative body to be jailed for six months without trial after he was arrested at a checkpoint last week.

Aziz Dweik, a member of Hamas and a senior elected politician, was imprisoned “without charge or legal justification”, a statement from his office said. It claimed Israel was attempting to thwart moves towards reconciliation between the rival Palestinian factions Fatah and Hamas.

Dweik was arrested at a checkpoint near Ramallah last Thursday. According to reports, he was handcuffed and blindfolded by Israeli soldiers, who said he was being detained for “involvement in terrorist activities”.

Dweik has been the speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council since elections six years ago. But the council has not sat since the summer of 2007, when Hamas — which had won elections the previous year — took control of Gaza in a bloody battle with Fatah.

The order to imprison Dweik was made the day after two Hamas politicians were arrested by Israeli police inside the east Jerusalem compound of the Red Cross, where they had sought refuge 18 months ago after being threatened with expulsion from the city.

Police said they arrested Mohammed Totah, a member of the council, and Khaled Abu Arafeh, a former Palestinian minister for Jerusalem affairs, on Monday for “Hamas activity in Jerusalem”. Hamas is banned by Israel in the city.

Another Hamas council member, Abdel Jaber Fukaha, was arrested at his home in Ramallah this week, bringing the total number of council members in Israeli jails to 27. Nineteen have been detained without trial or charge.

The recent arrests are regarded as part of an Israeli crackdown on the movement and activity of senior Palestinian figures thought to be connected to moves towards reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas. Israel opposes Palestinian reconciliation, believing it will give Hamas greater influence.

A statement from the Palestinian Cabinet on Tuesday condemned “the continued detention campaign against [council] members” and demanded their immediate release.

Hanan Ashwari, a veteran Palestinian politician, said Israel was “flagrantly violating international conventions and practices” with regard to the immunity of elected officials and was using “calculated means of coercion and power politics to interfere in Palestinian domestic affairs and to undermine democratic institutions in Palestine”.

More than 300 Palestinians are held in “administrative detention” under the Israeli military system, without charge or trial, on security grounds. —