Security services of the Palestinian Authority (PA) have arrested several Hamas members and activists in the occupied West Bank and put them in Al-Junaid Prison in the city of Nablus. They were later moved to the notorious Jericho Prison, which has been known to hold Hamas members and leaders, as well as critics of the PA.
This came just a few days after the presidential decree which was issued to ban the detention and prosecution of individuals for reasons relating to freedom of opinion and political affiliation.
It also ordered "the immediate release of any detainees or prisoners held in custody against the backdrop of practicing freedom of opinion, political affiliation or for any other partisan reasons in all of the territories of Palestine."
Senior Member of Hamas Political Bureau Dr Mousa Abu-Marzouq told the local Watan radio: "Following this decree, the Hamas-run government in the Gaza Strip released 45 security prisoners, whom the PA and Fatah claim are detained for their political affiliation." However, he said, "the PA security services continue their detention campaigns against Hamas activists at a time when the Israeli occupation authorities are carrying out detention campaigns against Hamas members and leaders."
Palestinian MP and senior Hamas leader Sheikh Nayef Al-Rajoub confirmed to MEMO that nothing related to the decree on the public freedoms had been implemented on the ground, referring to the incident of detaining Hamas members and moving them to the "Jericho slaughterhouse" where many Hamas members have previously perished following severe torture as a result of their resistance against the Israeli occupation.
Hamas members and leaders have been subject to repeated Israeli threats and detention campaigns. "Scores of people have been detained by the Israeli occupation over their potential participation in the Palestinian elections," Al-Rajoub told MEMO, naming a number of them including Hamas MPs Sameer Al-Qadi, Hatem Qafisheh, and others.
He said the Hamas officials and members are being detained by Israeli occupation forces and held under administrative detention – means to detain people without charge or trial. Al-Rajoub said this Israeli measure was part of the occupation's plan to "undermine the participation of the largest Palestinian factions in the parliamentary elections," adding that this will fail and Hamas is going to run in the elections even if its leaders and members end up in Israeli prisons.
A West Bank-based Palestinian political analyst, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said such PA and Israeli campaigns would not prevent Hamas members from running in the elections. "Most Hamas leaders have spent more time in prisons than at their homes," he told MEMO. "They are resilient and do not care about the Israeli restrictions and punitive measures. They sacrifice for the sake of the national interests and this gives them more credit in the street."
Director of the Palestinian Centre for the Studies of Political and Strategic Issues (MASARAT), Hani Al-Masri, said that the presidential decree on public freedoms is still "vague" as it does not mention news websites blocked in the occupied West Bank, or identify the political prisoners. This "vagueness", Al-Masri said, "puts the electoral process at stake." Adding that he fears the elections will be cancelled at some point.
Meanwhile, the political analyst Hisham Al-Sharbati did not rule out possible cooperation between the PA and the Israeli occupation in an effort to weaken Hamas. "Cooperation between the PA or Fatah and Israel is possible," he told MEMO. "The PA may ask Israel to target certain people that it cannot approach," he explained. This is what happened following the last Palestinian election in 2006 which saw Hamas gain victory, but which also witnessed the PA undermining Hamas by arresting the movement's activists while Israel detained its MPs and ministers.
It seems that Israel and the PA recognise that these elections are different as the EU and many regional countries have put pressure on the PA and Fatah to hold them and the US has indirectly given the greenlight for them to go ahead. So Hamas, which is looking for a window towards the international community, is insisting they go ahead.
Meanwhile, the PA and Israel, which recognise that isolating Hamas has failed, are doing their best to stop it from becoming part of the new legitimate Palestinian political institutions – the parliament, which represents the Palestinians in the occupied territories, and the Palestinian National Council which represents the Palestinians in Palestine and the diaspora.
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