Police Close Islamic Institute Suspected of Aiding Hamas

Islamic Movement denies branch gave funding and logistical support to militant group in Jerusalem.

The Israel Police on Sunday shut down the offices of a central Islamic Movement sub-branch based in the northern Israeli Arab town of Umm al-Fahm.

Large forces from the Valley District Police raided the offices of Al-Aqsa, the national organization's central body in the north, after Defense Minister Ehud Barak deemed it an "illegal organization."

Prior to the raid, the Shin Bet had gathered intelligence revealing that Al-Aqsa was coordinating with Hamas commaders in East Jerusalem, by giving them financial and logistical support for their activities in the capital.

A number of Umm al-Fahm residents and movement activists arrived at the Al-Aqsa offices to watch the raid. Police said they seized documents, computers and other material belonging to the institute before closing it down.

In response to the police action, the Islamic Movement denied any connection to Hamas.

"The Israeli establishment prefers to use the stick method instead of talking," the movement said in a statement.

Islamic Movement spokesman Zaim Jiday denied the alleged links with Hamas.

"It's absolutely not right," he told Army Radio. "We do not cooperate [with Hamas]. We carry out legal, open and transparent activities."

The Islamic Movement's northern branch is headed by Sheikh Ra'ad Salah, who last year was arrested for disturbances at a protest against Israeli excavations near the Dome of the Rock in the Old City of Jerusalem.

He was later in court with incitement to violence and racism, over a fiery speech he gave in the Wadi Joz neighborhood, in which he accused Jews of using children's blood to bake bread.

Salah said Sunday that the raided institute was founded 10 years ago and has an Israeli licence to operate.