In the second operation of its kind in 24 hours, IDF soldiers on Sunday arrested Mahmoud Ramahi, a senior Hamas official who also serves as secretary-general of the Palestinian Legislative Council.
Ramahi was arrested at his home in al-Bireh, Ramallah's twin city, in an IDF operation that lasted only several minutes, eyewitnesses told The Jerusalem Post.
They said IDF troops surrounded Ramahi's house shortly after he arrived there and called on him through loudspeakers to surrender. "He came out very quickly, and the soldiers put him on a jeep and took him away," said one of the neighbors. "The entire operation lasted about five minutes."
Ramahi is the second Hamas representative to be arrested in Ramallah in as many days, when IDF soldiers took into custody Dr. Nasser Eddin Shaer, deputy prime minister of the Palestinian Authority. Earlier this month, the IDF arrested PLC Speaker Aziz Dweik, one of the prominent political leaders of Hamas in the West Bank.
Hamas officials said the crackdown on their representatives, which began almost immediately after the abduction of IDF Cpl. Gilad Shalit last June, was clearly designed to exert pressure on the Hamas leadership to release the soldier. Other officials said the arrests, which have affected more than 30 Hamas legislators and ministers, were part of an Israeli scheme aimed at toppling the Hamas government.
The massive clampdown on Hamas has virtually paralyzed the Hamas-dominated PLC and disrupted the work of many Hamas-run ministries and institutions in the West Bank. The arrests have also increased tensions between Hamas and its rival Fatah party, whose leader, Mahmoud Abbas, is under growing pressure to fire the Hamas government.
Abbas on Saturday won the backing of the PLO executive committee, a key decision-making body, to replace the Hamas government. Some committee members urged Abbas to seize the opportunity presented by the many Hamas leaders now in Israeli prison to announce the formation of a new government.
The committee, which held an emergency meeting in Ramallah, held the Hamas government responsible for the economic, political and security crisis in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and urged Abbas to form a new government. "Our people have been turned into beggars under the Hamas government," said one member. "There is an urgent need to get rid of this failed government."
Abbas, according to some of his aides, is reluctant to take such a drastic measure for fear of being depicted as a "collaborator" with Israel and the US. "It won't look good if President Abbas fired the Hamas cabinet at a time when Israeli forces are chasing their ministers and legislators," said one aide in Abbas's office. "Israel's actions are actually harming our efforts to undermine the Hamas government."
Tensions between Hamas and Fatah intensified over the weekend after Hamas set conditions for accepting Abbas's proposal for establishing a "national unity government." On Friday, PA Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh announced that there would be no unity government unless Israel released all the Hamas officials from prison. He also said that any new government must be headed by Hamas, which has the largest list in parliament.
"Any new government should be formed on the basis of the results of last January's parliamentary elections," Haniyeh said. "The prime minister should be from the biggest list in parliament. This is something that we made clear to Abbas during our talks with him this week."