Senior Hamas Election Official Among Several Arrested by Shin Bet

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Election officials prepare to count ballots after the polls closed for municipal elections at a polling station in the West Bank city of Hebron October 20, 2012.Credit: Reuters

The Hamas representative on the central committee organizing Palestinian local elections in early October was arrested in Ramallah on Wednesday by the Shin Bet security service.

Mohammed Abu Kwaik, a senior Hamas figure in the West Bank, is one of several members of the organization detained in the runup to the elections.

In response to his arrest, Hamas accused Israel of crude interference in the elections, which are due to be held in both the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

The Shin Bet announced Abu Kwaik’s arrest Wednesday morning, saying that he was detained for involvement in activity that poses a security risk to the area. Abu Kwaik was recently appointed to the central election committee.

Hamas said that more than 20 of its activists have been arrested in the last few days, following the central election committee’s announcement that candidates for the local elections can now put forward their names.

The timing of the arrests indicates a blatant attempt by Israel to influence the preparations for the local elections and prevent Hamas from pursuing its activity in the West Bank, Hamas said.

Spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri declared that Abu Kwaik’s arrest was a preemptive strike by Israel intended to affect the outcome of the elections. He linked the arrest to what he said were other steps being taken by the Palestinian Authority’s security apparatus against Hamas members in the West Bank, with the aim of weakening the movement.

Rather than weaken the movement, the detentions will only strengthen Hamas in the Palestinian street, Abu Zuhri said.

Abu Kwaik is a prominent Hamas figure in the West Bank. He was among those deported to Marj al-Zohour, in southern Lebanon, by the Rabin government in 1994. His wife and three of his children were killed in 2003 when an Israeli tank fired on his vehicle.

The local elections in the West Bank and Gaza are the hot topic on the Palestinian political scene currently. The large Palestinian factions, chiefly Hamas and Fatah, are submitting their own slates of candidates, while the smaller organizations and factions are trying to advance joint lists.

Hamas’ agreement to take part in the elections has led some to view them as a pilot for a general election for the presidency and parliament, which would be the basis for any progress in the internal Palestinian reconciliation process.

But, in the meantime, Fatah and Hamas have been trading accusation about score-settling against Fatah activists in Gaza and Hamas activists in the West Bank.

There have also been calls to postpone the elections in recent weeks, with Hamas accusing Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Fatah officials of trying to sabotage the elections out of fear that they will lose. The PA has adamantly rejected the claims.

Central election committee chairman Hana Nasser said in a press conference in Gaza on Wednesday that three lists had been submitted to the committee so far. The submission period began Wednesday and will remain open for 10 days.

Nasser denied that there was any plan to postpone the elections, saying that neither Abbas nor Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah had expressed themselves on the issue.

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