Abdel Aziz Dweik 248.88.
(photo credit: AP)
The Palestinian Authority and Hamas welcomed the release on Tuesday of Abdel Aziz Dweik, speaker of the Hamas-dominated Palestinian Legislative Council, who spent three years in an Israeli prison.
PA President Mahmoud Abbas, in a rare gesture, phoned Dweik to congratulate him on his release. Abbas also dispatched one of his ministers, Issa Qaraqi, to join dozens of Hamas supporters in receiving Dweik upon his arrival at an IDF checkpoint in the northern West Bank.
Senior Fatah officials arrived at the checkpoint, where they were joined by four top Hamas representatives: Omar Abdel Razek, Mahmoud Rumahi, Fathi Qarawi and Abdel Rahman Zeidan.
Dweik, who lives in Ramallah, was arrested together with scores of Hamas officials and activists in response to the abduction of IDF soldier Gilad Schalit.
At the peak of the power struggle between Fatah and Hamas, Fatah supporters stormed Dweik's residence and set it on fire. Members of his family were frequently harassed and threatened by Fatah activists and PA security agents.
Dweik is the most senior Hamas political figure to be released from Israeli prison in recent years.
His release is likely to boost Hamas's standing in the West Bank at a time when Abbas and Fatah are doing their utmost to undermine the Islamic movement.
Dweik told reporters shortly after his release that he had "information and many happy surprises for the Palestinians." Asked to elaborate, he added: "I will talk about them in the [Palestinian Legislative] Council."
Dweik said he was unaware of reports of an impending prisoner exchange between Israel and Hamas. However, he said he would be very delighted to see all the Palestinian prisoners released.
He said that he would work toward ending the power struggle between Hamas and Fatah, adding that the Palestinians would like to see the West Bank "reunited" with the Gaza Strip.
Dweik called on the PA leadership to release all Hamas detainees being held in Palestinian prisons in the West Bank so as to boost the prospects of achieving reconciliation between the rival parties.
Hamas welcomed the release of Dweik, but warned that the move should not be seen as part of an Israeli goodwill gesture or a potential prisoner swap agreement.
"He was released because he completed his three-year sentence, and not because of other considerations," said Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri.