Last updated: 23 January, 2012

Israel nabs Hamas officials at Jerusalem Red Cross

Israeli police on Monday arrested two senior Hamas officials who had taken refuge inside the east Jerusalem offices of the International Committee of the Red Cross, police and an ICRC spokeswoman said.

Police entered the building and arrested former Palestinian minister for Jerusalem affairs Khaled Abu Arafeh and Hamas MP Mohammed Totah.

“I can confirm that they were arrested around 1:15pm (1115 GMT). Police came into the compound and arrested them,” said ICRC spokeswoman Cecilia Goin.

A Hamas source in the West Bank also confirmed the arrest of the two men who had taken refugee inside the compound since July 1, 2010 alongside two other senior Hamas MPs who have since been arrested and deported to the West Bank.

All four had their Jerusalem ID cards revoked by Israel, and were staying in the compound in a bid to avoid being detained.

Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld confirmed the arrests but said police had not set foot inside the Red Cross compound.

“A short while ago, Israeli police arrested the two Hamas representatives Khaled Abu Arafeh and Mohammed Totah from east Jerusalem. They were arrested outside the Red Cross building in Sheikh Jarrah,” he said.

The two men both had their Jerusalem ID cards revoked 18 months ago, meaning they were not legally entitled to be inside the city, Rosenfeld said.

“They were arrested firstly because they weren’t allowed in Jerusalem and secondly because of the suspicions to do with their involvement in Hamas,” the Islamist movement which rules Gaza.

In a statement, Hamas’s political party condemned the arrest of Abu Arafeh and Totah as “a new Zionist crime,” saying their detention was the latest step in an Israeli campaign against elected Hamas officials.

Last week, Israel detained Hamas MP and Palestinian parliamentary speaker Aziz Dweik, who will appear before a military court on Tuesday.

“We strongly condemn these crimes and stress that they are a breach of the parliamentary immunity of the lawmakers and a form of piracy against an international institution,” the statement added, in reference to the ICRC.

The fate of the four has sparked concern among Palestinians living in east Jerusalem.

They fear the MPs’ expulsion could set a precedent for the removal of the 270,000 Palestinians living there who need Israeli-issued residence permits to travel freely in Israel and the West Bank.

Israel occupied the eastern sector of the city in the 1967 Six-Day War and later annexed it in a move never recognised by the international community.

The Jewish state regards the whole of Jerusalem as its “eternal, indivisible” capital, while the Palestinians want the eastern sector as capital of their promised state.