Last updated: 19 January, 2012

Israel detains Hamas head of Palestinian parliament

The Israeli army on Thursday arrested the Palestinian parliamentary speaker, Hamas member Aziz Dweik, in the West Bank, a senior colleague told AFP.

Dweik was detained by soldiers at a checkpoint in Jabaa, between Ramallah and Jerusalem, as he was travelling to Hebron in the southern West Bank, the leader of the cabinet, Bahaa Yussef, told AFP.

Last May, Dweik was held at an Israeli military checkpoint in the West Bank along with three other Hamas parliamentarians. One of them, Nizar Ramadan, was detained while the others were allowed to proceed.

Hamas member Ahmed Bahar, the Gaza-based first vice president of the Palestinian parliament, in a statement denounced “the detention of Mr Dweik, which aims to undermine reconciliation efforts (with Fatah) and disrupt legislative work in the West Bank.”

Hamas government spokesman Taher al-Nunu also “condemned the detention and warned of the consequences of any attack on his person” in a statement calling for Dweik’s immediate release.

The Israeli army confirmed Dweik’s arrest.

“Israeli soldiers arrested Dweik at a checkpoint because he is suspected of being involved in the activities of a terrorist group,” an army spokesman told AFP.

The Hamas-dominated Palestinian parliament has been paralysed since the Islamist movement took over the Gaza Strip in June 2007, ousting Fatah forces loyal to Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas.

Last month, Abbas met Hamas chief Khaled Meshaal in Cairo where they decided on a process to pave the way for Hamas to join a reformed Palestine Liberation Organisation and for long-delayed Palestinian elections.

Azzam al-Ahmad, a Fatah official tasked with handling the reconciliation with Hamas, condemned the arrest which he said “follows a continued action by Israel against Palestinan lawmakers”.

“It contradicts every earlier agreement with Israel,” Ahmad told AFP by telephone from Moscow where he was accompanying Abbas on an official voyage.

Dweik, a professor of geography at Al-Najah University in the southern West Bank, was elected to represent the Hebron constituency and became speaker in the parliament’s first session in February 2006.

Some 20 of Hamas’s 74 MPs in the 132-member Palestinian legislative council are currently being held by Israel. Most of them, including two former ministers, have been arrested in the West Bank since October 2010.

Almost all of the officials were among 64 Hamas parliamentarians and government members previously arrested by Israel after the seizure of one of its soldiers, Gild Shalit, in June 2006 near the Islamist-ruled Gaza Strip.

Shalit was freed on October 18 in a prisoner swap between Israel and Hamas.

The first stage of the deal in October saw 477 Palestinians including hundreds serving life for killing Israelis, released.

Two Fatah MPs and one from the leftwing Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine are also currently being held by Israel, Palestinian parliamentary sources say.