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(photo credit: AP [file])
The Palestinian Authority plans to dismiss dozens of mosque preachers in the West Bank who expressed solidarity with the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip during Operation Cast Lead and incited against the PA leadership and moderate Arab governments.
Jamal Bawatneh, the PA Minister for Religious Affairs, said his ministry was planning "many changes" that would affect a large number of imams in the West Bank.
The minister accused the imams of exploiting the mosque podiums to promote their "private agendas" in violation of ministry regulations.
"Some of the imams and mosque tutors have misused the freedom granted to them," Bawatneh charged. "They thought that the ministry was not aware of their actions."
He said that as far as he was concerned, those who "want to become celebrities and engage in election propaganda should go to the radio and TV stations and not to the mosques. We won't allow them to spread their lies and fabrications in the mosques."
The latest move is seen by Palestinians in the context of the PA leadership's efforts to combat pro-Hamas supporters in the West Bank.
A source in the ministry said the imams who were targeted had expressed sympathy for Hamas during the recent war in the Gaza Strip. Some of them even dared to use Friday prayers to criticize PA President Mahmoud Abbas and other Arab heads of state for failing to take a tougher stance against Israel, the source added.
The PA security forces have in recent weeks arrested several West Bank imams on charges of "incitement" during the war and membership in an illegal organization, i.e. Hamas.
The arrests come in spite of attempts by Hamas and Fatah leaders to end their differences and form a national unity government. The two parties have been holding reconciliation talks in Cairo over the past week in a bid to end the power struggle between Hamas and Fatah.
At least three imams from the Ramallah area were arrested by Abbas's security forces in the past few days: Amer Hamoudeh from Kharbata Bani Hareth, Ahmed al-Abed Shalash from Shakba, and Shaker Wahdan from Rantis.
A fourth imam, Jawad al-Natsheh of Hebron, is reported to be seriously ill after being held in a PA prison for three weeks. His family said that he had been brutally tortured while in prison on charges of supporting Hamas and protesting against the war in the Gaza Strip.