Israel Police Arrest Hamas Lawmakers in East Jerusalem Compound

Khaled Abu Rafah and Mohammed Totah sought refuge from Israeli arrest in a Red Cross compound in the neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah in July 2010.

Jerusalem Police arrested two Hamas lawmakers on Monday who had been hiding for over a year in an East Jerusalem Red Cross compound.

The two men, Khaled Abu Rafah, and Mohammed Totah sought refuge from Israeli arrest in the compound in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem in July 2010. The men’s identity cards were previously confiscated by the Israeli government.

Ahmed Atoun in police custody - Tomer Appelbaum -  September 27, 2011.
Tomer Appelbaum

It must be noted that the Red Cross compound does not provide diplomatic immunity.
Police spokesman, Micky Rosenfeld, said the men were wanted for "Hamas activities," but would not elaborate.

Israel, the U.S., EU and Israel list Hamas as a terror group due to its suicide bombings and other attacks aimed at civilians that have killed hundreds of Israelis.

Israel bans Hamas from operating in Jerusalem. Last week Israel arrested the Hamas speaker of the Palestinian parliament.

Rosenfeld said the Hamas men were arrested when they ventured outside the Red Cross compound Monday.

Hamas spokesman Mushir al-Masri confirmed they were hiding at the Red Cross for a year and a half. "This is a Zionist crime," he said. "Their abduction is a violation of their rights."
Hamas lawmakers have taken refuge at the Red Cross compound before. Last September Israeli police arrested Ahmed Atoun, a Hamas member of the Palestinian Legislative Council.

Atoun’s arrest was accomplished by having two undercover border policemen pose as Arab drivers and stage a fight outside the Red Cross compound. When Atoun left the compound to see what was happening, police nabbed him.

The men were Hamas lawmakers in the Palestinian parliament, which has not functioned since Hamas seized control of Gaza in 2007 from the Palestinian Fatah Party of President Mahmoud Abbas.

They were among four Hamas officials Israel arrested in 2006 after an Israeli soldier was abducted by Gaza militants allied to the militant Islamic group.

The most prominent of the four East Jerusalem fugitives, Muhammad Abu Tir, was among some 40 Hamas PLC members arrested by Israel in retaliation for the June 2006 capture of soldier Gilad Shalit by Hamas.

Following Abu Tir's release from jail in June 2010, the Shin Bet security service decided to deport him and his three East Jerusalem colleagues - Atoun, Khaled Abu Arafa and Mohammed Totah. They were given one month to leave the city voluntarily.

When they refused, police arrested Abu Tir and deported him to Ramallah. But the other three sought refuge in the Red Cross compound in East Jerusalem, where they set up a protest tent and received a constant stream of visitors.

After spending time in jail, they were ordered to leave Jerusalem but hid at the Red Cross instead to avoid expulsion.

"Hamas forcing itself on the Red Cross is not new," Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said. "It raises serious questions about the abuse by Hamas of Red Cross neutrality and about the impotence of the Red Cross to counter such abuse."

In July last year, Israel sought clarifications from the Red Cross following a demonstration outside the organization's Gaza headquarters for Palestinian prisoners held in Israel, including many involved in deadly attacks. Israel charged that the Red Cross helped organize the event and said such activities compromise its neutrality.