High-ranking Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) member Muhammad Abu Tir was released from the Nafha Prison near Mitzpe Ramon on Thursday morning after four years of interment at the facility. He was transferred to the police station at the Russian Compound in Jerusalem, then to his home in Sur Baher, east Jerusalem.
The orange-bearded Hamas sheikh was arrested in summer 2006 along with 64 other members of the movement in the wake of the kidnapping of captured IDF soldier St.-Sgt. Gilad Schalit. Eight of Hamas's 23 cabinet ministers and 20 of its 72 lawmakers were arrested, among them Abu Tir, Finance Minister Omar Abdel Razek, Labor Minister Muhammad Barghouti and the mayors of Kalkilya and Jenin.
The arrest operation was carried out simultaneously throughout the night across the West Bank in cities like Hebron, Ramallah and Jenin. No one was hurt during the raids, which were all finished before dawn. The detainees were all transferred into Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) custody and were interrogated throughout the day.
Following the arrests, Mark Regev, who then served as the Foreign Ministry spokesman, had stated that the arrests stemmed from Israel's rejection of "the unofficial distinction that has been made within Hamas of a military and political wing." Jerusalem's view, he said, was that the terrorist organization must be held accountable for "escalated terrorism" and "rocket fire on Sderot."
Despite this reasoning, controversy and criticism from the international
community were voiced after the arrests. The Foreign Ministry then
issued a clarification stating that the detainees were "suspected of
criminal offenses such as membership or activities in a terrorist
organization, membership in the leadership of a terrorist organization
and other possible offenses that constitute a violation of the law
according to the Ordinance for the Prevention of Terrorism."
According to this law, passed in 1948, "a person who fulfills a
leadership or training role in a terrorist organization, or participates
in the deliberations or decision-making process of a terrorist
organization, or serves as a member of the court of a terrorist
organization, or makes a propaganda speech at a public meeting or radio
broadcast on behalf of a terrorist organization will be accused of a
crime and if found guilty, be sentenced to up to 20 years in prison." Yaakov Katz contributed to this report.