Israel arrests senior Hamas MP in West Bank

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Palestinians demonstrate in Jerusalem in July 2010
© AFP/File Ahmad Gharabli - Palestinians demonstrate in Jerusalem in July 2010
Palestinians demonstrate in Jerusalem in July 2010
© AFP/File Ahmad Gharabli - Palestinians demonstrate in Jerusalem in July 2010

RAMALLAH, Palestinian Territories (AFP) – Israeli forces arrested senior Hamas MP Mahmud al-Ramahi at his home in the West Bank city of Ramallah overnight, his Islamist movement and Israeli forces said on Wednesday.

Ramahi, who is secretary of the Palestinian Legislative Council and the body’s third most senior member, was detained at around 3 am (0100 GMT), Hamas sources in Ramallah told AFP.

An army spokeswoman said Ramahi had been detained “for being involved in recent Hamas activities.”

“He was taken in for security questioning,” she told AFP, adding that Ramahi was one of 11 people arrested by Israeli forces in the West Bank overnight.

Ramahi’s arrest came after representatives of Hamas and the Fatah party of Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas started a meeting in Damascus on Tuesday night for reconciliation talks.

The long-time political rivals have been fiercely divided since Hamas seized power in Gaza in a bloody rout of Abbas’s forces in 2007, limiting Abbas’s authority to the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

Several previous attempts to reconcile the groups have failed, with each side accusing the other of undermining trust by persecuting political rivals in the territory under its control.

Omar Abdul Razek, a senior Hamas official in the West Bank, told AFP Ramahi’s arrest appeared to be an attempt by Israel to undermine the reconciliation talks.

“There is no justification for Ramahi’s arrest unless Israel’s aim is to sabotage the reconciliation process,” Abdul Razek told AFP.

In a statement released from its base in exile in Damascus, Hamas called for Ramahi’s immediate release.

“The arrest of MP Ramahi is a crime aimed at excluding anyone who calls for the defence and recovery of Palestinian rights,” it said.

It called on the Palestinian leadership to “halt all forms of security coordination (with Israel) which only allow it to cover up its crimes against the Palestinian people.”

Three weeks ago, Hamas lawmaker Hatem Qafaish was detained in the southern West Bank city of Hebron, also for what the Israeli army termed “security questioning.”

Israeli forces last arrested Ramahi in 2006 in a roundup of dozens of Hamas lawmakers, ministers and other officials, after Gaza militants seized Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.

Ramahi was released seven months ago and most of those detained at the same time have also since been freed.

But about a dozen MPs remain in jail, including two from Fatah and one from the leftist Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP).