Abdel Aziz Dweik 248.88.
(photo credit: AP)
Hamas said on Wednesday that Abdel Aziz Dweik, the speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council who was released a day earlier from Israeli prison, should be treated as acting president of the Palestinian Authority.
Meanwhile, the PA is planning to release on Thursday 40 Hamas members who are being held without trial in its prisons in the West Bank.
Earlier this week, the PA leadership said it would free hundreds of Hamas detainees as a gesture aimed at boosting the chances of reconciliation with the Islamist movement.
According to the PA constitution, if the office of the president is considered vacant, the PLC speaker serves as interim president for 60 days until new elections are held in the Palestinian territories.
Mahmoud Abbas's four-year term ended in January, turning Dweik, the most senior Hamas representative in the West Bank, into acting president, according to Hamas.
"Dweik is the real president of the Palestinian people after Abbas's term in office expired in January," said Hamas legislator Salem Salameh.
Dweik's release has raised concerns among Fatah representatives in the West Bank who also criticized Abbas for rushing to phone him shortly after he walked out of prison.
Some Fatah operatives argued that Dweik's release would strengthen Hamas at a time when the Palestinian security forces are making huge efforts to prevent the Islamist movement from extending its control to the West Bank.
One Fatah official told The Jerusalem Post that it would have been better had Israel released Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti.
"Israel is apparently trying to undermine our authority by freeing Hamas men," he said. "Israel's measures are counterproductive."
Fatah legislators on Wednesday prevented Dweik from holding a press conference inside the PLC chamber.
As soon as Dweik arrived at the PLC compound in Ramallah, the Fatah legislators and Fatah-affiliated employees closed the doors and left their offices, eyewitnesses said.
Fatah also said it would not allow Dweik to convene the PLC, under the pretext that only Abbas had the authority to call such a meeting.
Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh condemned the moves against Dweik and warned they would hamper efforts to reconcile with Fatah.
"I'm not optimistic regarding the prospects of national dialogue [with Fatah]," Haniyeh said.
Despite Abbas's decision to release Hamas prisoners, his security forces on Wednesday arrested Dr. Hafez Shaheen, deputy mayor of Nablus, the largest city in the West Bank, for allegedly supporting Hamas.
Shaheen is also a lecturer at An-Najah University in Nablus. This was the second time in the past 18 months that he has been detained by the PA security forces.
Over the past few days, several members of elected municipal councils and university teachers have been rounded up by the PA security forces as part of its efforts to eliminate Hamas's presence in the West Bank.
In the Gaza Strip, Hamas's security forces arrested newspaper editor Sari al-Qidwah, local journalists told the Post. They noted that the detained editor is a relative of former PA chairman Yasser Arafat.
Hamas did not give any reason for his detention. Qidwah is editor-in-chief of the As-Sabah newspaper.
In the West Bank, the PA security forces arrested Sari Samour, a Palestinian investigative reporter and writer. He was taken into custody after criticizing the performance of the PA security forces and describing them as a tool in the hands of Israel.
His family said he was summoned to the PA's General Intelligence Service offices in Jenin following a series of articles he wrote about the recent incidents in Kalkilya, where Palestinian security forces shot and killed four Hamas militiamen.