Israel Releases Jailed Hamas Parliament Speaker

Military court decided last week not to extend term of Aziz Dweik, who was imprisoned after Shalit abducted.

Israel released the speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council from prison on Tuesday, ending his three-year incarceration.

Aziz al-Dweik, considered a moderate Hamas leader in the West Bank, was one of several Palestinian leaders arrested after the June 2006 abduction of Israel Defense Forces soldier Gilad Shalit.

Israeli prosecutors failed to persuade a military court to extend Dweik's prison term during a hearing last Wednesday. Dweik and dozens of other Hamas politicians in the West Bank in 2006 after gunmen from the Palestinian Islamist group in the Gaza Strip abducted Shalit in a 2006 cross-border raid.

The dragnet paralyzed the Palestinian Legislative Council, which had been dominated by Hamas since it crushed President Mahmoud Abbas's Western-backed, secular Fatah faction in a parliamentary election earlier that year.

The Islamists accused Israel of trying to pressure them into freeing the Shalit.

Al-Dweik urged reconciliation and dialogue between Hamas and Fatah and called for the release of long-time prisoners, asking the Palestinian public to work toward this goal.

"My hand is outstretched to all who want Palestinian unity," he said. "I thank you and my lawyers and journalists." Al-Dweik specifically thanked Al Jazeera reporter Guevara Budeiri, who he said was a source of encouragement for prisoners.

The 60-year-old lawmaker was appointed chairman of the Palestinian parliament after the 2006 elections bringing Hamas to power, in an attempt to project a moderate message to Israel and the West.

In the years before his arrest, al-Dweik worked on behalf of Hamas in Hebron, focusing on civil, rather than militant, activities and lecturing at West Bank universities. He was one of several Hamas leaders Israel deported to Lebanon in 1992, and served for a time as their English-language spokesman. He has never been convicted of security offenses and did not become publicly involved in Hamas activities after he returned to the West Bank.

An Israel Defense Forces spokesman said that Dweik, who was sentenced to three years in prison for his ties to Hamas, would go free when the term was up, as a bid by prosecutors to keep him behind bars was rejected.