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Hamas accuses Israel of intervening with elections after top official detained in raids

Aug. 17, 2016 3:37 P.M. (Updated: Aug. 29, 2016 4:54 P.M.)
RAMALLAH (Ma'an) -- At least two Palestinian youth were injured with live fire by Israeli forces during clashes and 25 Palestinians were detained during widespread raids overnight Tuesday across the occupied West Bank.

At least ten members of the Hamas movement were among the detained, including the movement’s main elections campaigner in the West Bank, sparking accusations from Hamas that Israel was trying to intervene in upcoming municipal elections.

The raids came as Israeli forces withdrew from a devastating Israeli military operation in al-Fawwar refugee camp in the Hebron district that began at dawn on Tuesday and continued late into the night, during which time a Palestinian teen was killed and 45 others injured.

2 injured, 6 detained in Ramallah

Clashes erupted across Ramallah on Wednesday around dawn when Israeli forces raided the al-Amari and Qaddura refugee camps, as well as the Um al-Sharayit, al-Masyoun, and Beituniya areas of the city.

Two Palestinians were injured with live fire during the Ramallah raids, locals said, and six Palestinians were detained, including Hamas movement leader Sheikh Hussein Abu Kweik, 50, a representative of the movement’s Central Elections Commission.

Clashes were particularly heavy in the al-Amari and Qaddura refugee camps, according to reports. After Israeli forces raided and searched Palestinian homes in the camps, youths threw rocks, Molotov cocktails, and fireworks at Israeli soldiers, who responded with live fire and other crowd control ammunition.

Times of Israel quoted a statement from Israel’s security service the Shin Bet as saying Abu Kweik was detained “for his involvement in security-related activities that presented a threat to security in the area,” and that he was suspected of “incitement.”

Additional allegations may be brought against the senior Hamas official following his interrogation, the Shin Bet statement reportedly added.

The five other detainees were identified by the Palestinian Prisoner’s Society (PPS) as Yousif Abu Saif, 28, Nael Abu Kweik, 34, Husam al-Wawi, 23, Muhannad Samara, 28, and Jihad al-Azzeh.

An Israeli army spokesperson told Ma’an they were looking into reports of the clashes and resultant injuries, but was able to confirm the six detentions in the city. One suspected Hamas operative was detained in Beituniya, while five Palestinians were detained in al-Amari refugee camp, three of which were members of Hamas -- including Abu Kweik.

14 Palestinians detained in Hebron raids

Meanwhile, PPS said that 14 Palestinians were detained from Hebron City and its surrounding towns in the southern occupied West Bank.

The statement identified them as Ahmad Zakariya Maswada, 23, his brother Amjad, 38, Alaa Maswada, 33, Adam al-Hroub, 21, Bahaa Awad, 21, Nour Zaaqeeq, 19, Abd al-Wahhab al-Khatib, Abdullah al-Rajabi, Ahmad Hassouna, Hamza al-Hudoush, 21, Sahir Ghatasha, Muntasir al-Masri, Abd al-Rahman al-Qawasma, and his son Umayya.

Local activist Muhammad Ayyad told Ma’an that Israeli forces raided several houses in the village of Beit Ummar, including in the al-Bayyada area and an industrial zone in the village, when they detained Awad, a former prisoner, and Zaaqeeq.

Ayyad added that Israeli forces summoned Awad’s 16-year-old brother Omar to meet with Israeli intelligence at the Etzion detention center for interrogation.

Israeli soldiers also set up a military checkpoint at the Safa circle of Beit Ummar, searching vehicles and banning entry to some before withdrawing to the Beit Ummar entrance, and then to the Etzion detention center north of the village.

The Israeli army spokesperson confirmed the two detentions in Beit Ummar and informed Ma’an of a third in the village.

She added that one of the Palestinians detained in the district was from the village of Halhul, one from Bani Naim, one from Surif who she said was a Hamas operative, two from the village of Deir Samit -- one of which was a Hamas operative -- while four were detained in Hebron city, including three members of Hamas.

Israeli media reported that Israeli forces also found military equipment, bullets, and two handguns -- one in the al-Fawar refugee camp and the second in Halhul -- during the Hebron-area raids.

Detentions in the north

Furthermore, Muhammad Yousif Mizyid, 20, and Muath Abu al-Asal, 21, were detained in Tulkarem in the northern occupied West Bank, according to PPS.

In northernmost West Bank district of Jenin, Israeli forces also detained Majd Arqawi, 22, according to the statement. The Israeli army confirmed one detention in the Jenin area, and informed Ma’an of a second one.

Hamas reacts to Abu Kweik’s detention

Spokesperson of the Hamas movement Sami Abu Zuhri slammed the detention of Abu Kweik, saying it was indicative that Israel aimed to intervene and affect the results of the upcoming local elections in the occupied Palestinian territory.

According to Israeli newspaper Times of Israel, Abu Kweik was appointed last week as Hamas’ only representative to the Palestinian Authority's (PA) Central Elections Committee, which is overseeing the elections.

Municipal elections are set to take place on Oct. 8. The Hamas movement announced its participation in July, paving the way for elections to be held in the Gaza Strip for the first time in a decade.

Since the announcement, Hamas has slammed the Fatah-dominated PA “for launching an immoral slander campaign against Hamas” along with Israel in order to sabotage the elections.

In addition to condemning Israel for its detention campaigns in the occupied West Bank, Abu Zuhri also called on the PA to end their detention of Palestinian civilians, who he said were “doubly targeted” by the coordinated arrest effort between Israel and the PA.

The Hamas movement in April charged the PA of adopting a "revolving door policy" which funnels Palestinians from PA jails into Israeli prisons as part of “escalating security collaboration” with Israeli authorities.

Abu Zuhri called upon international concerned institutions to intervene to release Abu Kweik.

Secretary-general of the Palestinian National Initiative Mustafa Barghouthi, who also chairs a Freedom Committee which emerged during Palestinian efforts to bridge the gaps between Hamas and Fatah, denounced Abu Kweik's detention in a statement Wednesday, accusing Israel of attempting to foil the upcoming local elections in Palestine.

“Once again, the (Israeli) occupation is trying to suppress the Palestinian people’s freedom to elect their representatives and to harm Palestinian democracy.”

Analysts have claimed that Hamas’ participation in local elections could signal the possibility of long-overdue general elections being held in the West Bank and Gaza.

The last elections in the Gaza Strip were held in 2006, when Hamas’ victory erupted into a violent conflict between Hamas and Fatah as both groups attempted to take control of the small Palestinian territory.

Gaza was placed under an Israeli military siege by Israel in 2007 following Hamas' victory in the general elections and subsequent takeover of the government. The nearly decade-long siege has severely crippled the economy and further isolated the Gaza Strip from the rest of the Palestinian territory.

The Palestinian rival movements set up a unity government of independents in June but it never took hold amid intense Israeli pressure, including a massive arrest campaign across the West Bank that left hundreds of Hamas members languishing in jail as well as the more than 50-day assault on Gaza that left more than 2,000 dead.
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