Palestinian security forces
Palestinian security officers, loyal to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, take part in a training session in the northern West Bank city of Jenin, in June 2010. Photo by AP
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The Palestinian military prosecutor's office will stop detaining civilians, and civilians will no longer be tried by Palestinian military courts, according to a pledge made by senior officials in the Palestinian security establishment to representatives of the Palestinian human rights group Al-Haq.

The pledge is backed by senior political officials in the Palestinian Authority, Al-Haq was told.

According to Al-Haq's director, Shawan Jabarin, he was given an express pledge on the matter at a meeting with the Palestinian intelligence officials on Saturday. The pledge was later backed up by the approval of the chief of the military judiciary, Ahmed Mobayed.

Jabarin said directives on the matter were sent at the beginning of the week to the security bodies in the various districts of the West Bank.

According to Palestinian basic law, based on PLO revolutionary law from 1979, the military has no authority to detain or try civilians. However, according to Al-Haq, the PLO's courts and penal code are themselves illegal since they were never officially published.

Palestinian human rights groups say illegal, arbitrary detentions are very common. This issue, together with torture and abuse in prison cells, has constantly been at the basis of claims and criticism by various groups and of the joint monitoring committee the groups established. The claims and criticism were made in writing, at meetings with senior PA officials and in publications.

The organizations have repeatedly expressed their concern over a decline to internal military rule (within the envelope of Israeli military rule ).

In most cases, the detainees in question are Hamas activists. The fact that many are released having never having been brought to trial is proof, the organizations say, that the detention stems from political persecution rather than suspicions and evidence of offenses.

Jabarin estimates that since 2007 there have been some 10,000 political detentions of civilians, mainly ordered by the military prosecution. The number of civilians brought to trial by the military justice system during those years amounted to only a few dozen.

Mass detentions are also made without any order, either from the military or the general prosecution.

Al-Haq called on PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas in a press release to issue a clear presidential decree to underscore the order.