Haniyeh: Government won't fall; 4 Hamas officials lose Jerusalem residency
In his first public address since Israel began its offensive into the Gaza Strip, Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh said Friday that his government would not cave in to Israeli demands, but said he was working hard to end a five-day-old crisis with Israel.
Though Haniyeh did not directly address Israel's demand that Palestinian militants hand over Israel Defense Forces soldier Corporal Gilad Shalit, abducted on Sunday, he implied that the government would not trade him for eight Cabinet ministers and 56 other Hamas officials arrested on Thursday.
"When they kidnapped the ministers they meant to hijack the government's position, but we say no positions will be hijacked, no governments will fall," he said.
Lebanon's Hezbollah guerrilla group, which in 2004 swapped a kidnapped Israeli and the bodies of three IDF soldiers for Arab prisoners, urged militants Friday to only free Shalit in exchange for Palestinians held in Israeli jails.
"There are 10,000 detainees and there is no method to free them except this method, except this path," Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah said.
Lebanese daily: Deal brewing on prisoner-soldier swapAccording to a report in the Lebanese daily As-Safir, which is known to be affiliated with pro-Syrian circles, Israel and Hamas are finalizing an agreement whereby Israel would release a significant number of Palestinian prisoners in exchange for the kidnapped soldier Shalit.
The newspaper says that Jerusalem would agree to release the prisoners only after Shalit's release into international or Egyptian custody.
The proposed deal, which is being mediated by Egypt, would also include an Israeli pledge to withdraw its forces to the Green Line (apparently outside of the Gaza Strip, Y.S.) and the reopening of Gaza trade crossings.
Both sides would also commit to a month-long hudna (ceasefire) during which Israel would refrain from targeted killings and Palestinian armed groups would agree to a halt of Qassam rocket fire.
Israel strips Jerusalem residency from Hamas deputiesIsrael on Friday revoked the Jerusalem residency of four Hamas legislators, including one cabinet minister, in an unprecedented punishment that takes away their right to live in the capital and travel freely in Israel, officials said.
In April, Interior Minister Roni Bar-On informed Minister for Jerusalem Affairs Khaled Abu Arafa and three members of the Palestinian parliament Mohammed Abu Tir, Ahmed Abu Atoun and Mahmoud Totah that they must renounce their membership in the militant Islamic group if they were to continue to have residency rights in Jerusalem.
The four officials were among Israel arrested in an overnight raid on Thursday.
Residents of East Jerusalem enjoy a wide range of social benefits including pension and health care. Israeli-issued identity cards grant them permanent residency in Jerusalem and freedom of movement in Israel.
The special arrangement is part of the conflict over Jerusalem. Israel captured the traditionally Arab sector in the 1967 Six-Day War and annexed it a few weeks later. Israel offered citizenship to the Palestinians there, but few accepted. However, Israel gave ID cards to them that are almost identical to the ones Israeli citizens carry.
Israel says that according to interim peace accords, the Palestinians are not allowed to conduct political activity in Jerusalem. Israel considers Hamas a terror organization. Hamas, whose charter calls for the destruction of Israel, has refused international requests to renounce violence, recognize Israel and abide by interim peace deals.
AG refuses to okay use of Hamas officials as 'bargaining chips'Attorney General Menachem Mazuz refused a request by the Shin Bet security service and the government to place dozens of senior Hamas officials under administrative detention or hold them as "bargaining chips" under the Unlawful Combatants Law.
Mazuz insisted that the arrests be carried out under ordinary criminal warrants that would require legal proceedings against the Hamas officials under the Prevention of Terror Ordinance. They will probably be charged with membership in or leadership of a terrorist organization.
The detainees will be brought before a judge for a remand hearing within the next 96 hours, and legal proceedings against them will be carried out in military courts in the territories.
Israel intends to arrest more senior Hamas figures in addition to the dozens of Palestinian lawmakers and ministers arrested in a predawn raid Thursday, the Justice Ministry said Thursday.
The detention of Hamas parliamentarians in the early hours of Thursday morning had been planned several weeks ago and received approval from Mazuz on Wednesday. The same day, Shin Bet security service Director Yuval Diskin presented Prime Minister Ehud Olmert with the list of Hamas officials slated for detention.
The Group of Eight industrialized countries said Thursday that the Hamas arrests raised "particular concerns."
A Justice Ministry spokesperson said that the change in policy towards ministers and parliamentarians who are members of Hamas was carried out with the approval of and in coordination with the judiciary, and that Israel intends on arresting more Hamas officials.
"We are talking about people suspected of criminal violations such as membership in terror organizations, affiliation with terrorist leadership, and other violations," the spokesperson said.
"The criminal proceedings will follow accepted legal standards. The suspects will be entitled to legal defense, and the arrest and investigation will be subject to judicial oversight. If a charge against a suspect is found to be baseless, he will be released," the spokesperson added.
IDF troops launched a major arrest operation overnight, detaining 64 members of the Hamas political wing, including cabinet members and parliamentarians, as well as 23 militants.
The move is part of Israel's expanded military operation against the Hamas-led government in the Palestinian Authority.
The arrests took place in Ramallah, Qalqilyah, Hebron, Jenin and East Jerusalem, according to Palestinian reports. Soldiers carried arrest warrants signed by judges that were issued following cooperative preparatory work by the state prosecution and police.
"The detention of elected members of the Palestinian government and legislature raises particular concerns," said a joint statement by the G8, which also called on Israel to exercise "utmost restraint."
"[This]... is a pre-planned plot to destroy the [Palestinian] Authority, the government and the parliament and to bring the Palestinian people to their knees," Hamas lawmaker Mushir al-Masri said Thursday.
There appeared to be some confusion Thursday as to whether Palestinian Deputy Prime Minister Nasser a-Shaer, had been one of those detainees or whether he had evaded capture and gone into hiding in the West Bank.
The Hamas ministers had apparently expected the arrests. A-Shaer's wife said Thursday that he had avoided the military arrest operation as he had not been sleeping at home when the sweep took place.
He reportedly had disconnected all his cellular telephones for fear Israeli security services would again attempt to track him down and arrest him.
A-Shaer's wife said she had been in contact with him, and that he was not arrested. Employees at the Ministry of Education offices in Ramallah reported seeing him in the building in the late morning.
But GOC Central Command Major General Yair Naveh confirmed at a news conference Thursday that a-Shaer was among those who had been detained.
Warning to HaniyehOn Thursday morning, National Infrastructure Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer hinted that Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh is not exempt from arrest or harm.
"No one is immune... This is not a government. It is a murderous organization," Ben-Eliezer said.
A Hamas official called the arrests an "open war against the Palestinian government and people," and said that Israel must be prepared to pay their consequences.
"We have no government, we have nothing. They have all been taken," Saeb Erekat, an ally of Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, said of the arrests. "This is absolutely unacceptable and we demand their release immediately."
Israel Radio quoted Diskin as having told Abbas on the day of the kidnapping: "If the soldier is not returned in 24 hours, Israel will not allow the Palestinian government to survive."
The Foreign Ministry released a statement Thursday saying the recent security-related events, particularly the Qassam rocket fire and the kidnapping of Shalit, were realizations of the Palestinian government's policies of terror.
The acceptance of responsibility for the kidnapping and the Hamas-led government's demand to exchange prisoners prove that Hamas' primary objective is not concern for the Palestinian people but determination to implement its policies of terror, the statement said.
"As a result of this, and out of a basic obligation to its citizens, Israel decided to implement orders to prevent terrorism," it went on.
Included among the detainees were Finance Minister Omar Abdel Razek; Minister Samir Abu Aysha; Khaled Abu Arfeh; and Jerusalem Affairs Ministers Naef Rajoub, the brother of senior Fatah official Jibril Rajoub.
Five of the cabinet ministers were arrested at the same Ramallah hotel.
Ahmed al-Najjar, a receptionist at the hotel, said he was asleep when troops arrived after midnight, demanded a list of guests, and took the men from their rooms at gunpoint.
Palestinian attorneys representing security detainees at the IDF military court in Salem said Thursday morning they refuse to represent the Hamas members arrested overnight because they maintain the arrests themselves are illegitimate.
In Ramallah, troops arrested at least two cabinet ministers and four lawmakers, all from Hamas, in a raid on a complex of buildings, Palestinian security officials said.
Labor Minister Mohammed Barghouti was stopped on his way to his village, Kabur, just north of Ramallah. Military jeeps stopped his car, ordered him out of the vehicle and took him away, the officials said.
In East Jerusalem, lawmakers Mohammed Abu Tir, Wael al-Husseini and Ahmed a-Tun were arrested.
Also, the Hamas mayor of the West Bank town of Qalqilyah and his deputy were detained, security officials said.
An IDF spokeswoman said the arrests were part of an operation against suspected terrorists, and were not "bargaining chips" for the release of abducted IDF soldier Corporal Gilad Shalit.
"They are not bargaining chips for the return of the soldier. It was simply an operation against a terrorist organization," she said. "They will be investigated, brought before a judge to extend their detention and charge sheets will be prepared."
The arrests are part of several moves designed to increase pressure on the militant group to free a captive soldier. Israel blames Hamas for the abduction of Shalit, kidnapped Sunday by militants who attacked an IDF post near the border with Gaza.
Army Radio speculated that the lawmakers might be used to trade for the captured soldier, but the IDF refused to comment on the matter.
The operation Thursday night came amidst IDF operations in the southern Gaza Strip aimed at securing Shalit's release.