The Palestinian Authority security forces on Sunday released a senior Hamas official who was arrested last Thursday on charges of slandering Palestinian officials and fomenting sectarian strife, paving the way for the Gaza-based terror group to participate in a meeting of faction leaders in Egypt at the end of this month.
The move came after Hamas and other Palestinian groups, including Palestinian Islamic Jihad, threatened to boycott the planned meeting of Palestinian faction leaders in the Egyptian capital of Cairo on July 30 to discuss ways of achieving national unity.
PA President Mahmoud Abbas had invited the leaders of the factions to the meeting in response to the Israeli military operation in the Jenin Refugee camp earlier this month.
Abbas hoping to convince Hamas, other Palestinian groups to join new unity
Palestinian officials said Abbas, who himself might participate in the Cairo discussions, is hoping to convince Hamas and other Palestinian groups to join a new unity government that would end the split between the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
The arrest of 63-year-old Sheikh Mustafa Abu Arra, a resident of the town of Tubas in the Jordan Valley, drew sharp criticism from Hamas and other Palestinian factions, as well as human rights organizations.
Shortly after his arrest, Abu Arra, who suffers from a heart disease, was rushed to the hospital for medical treatment. On Saturday he was transferred to a PA police station in the northern West Bank city of Tulkarem.
A representative of the Palestinian Independent Commission for Human Rights who met with Abu Arra in the police station said the Hamas leader was accused of slandering Palestinian officials and stirring up sectarian strife. The group called for his immediate release due to his unstable health condition and the nature of the charges against him, which fall within the category of freedom of expression.
The Ramallah-based NGO Lawyers for Justice condemned the PA security forces for refusing to allow one of its representatives to visit Abu Arra and other “political detainees” in PA prisons. It too called for the immediate release of the Hamas representative.
Palestinian sources claimed that Abu Arra was arrested in connection with an incident during which two senior leaders of the ruling Fatah faction, Mahmoud al-Aloul and Azzam al-Ahmed, were heckled and expelled from Jenin Refugee Camp. The incident, seen as a serious embarrassment for the Palestinian leadership, took place during the funerals of some of the Palestinians killed during the Israeli military operation.
According to the sources, Abu Arra was present when the incident took place, but he actually tried to calm the situation and prevent a physical assault on Aloul and Ahmed.
In response to the arrest, Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad threatened to boycott the meeting in Cairo unless the PA security forces released Abu Arra and other “political detainees.”
Palestinian Islamic Jihad Secretary-General Ziyad al-Nakhaleh announced on Sunday that his group would not attend the meeting unless all the detainees were released from PA prison. The group recently claimed that the PA security forces arrested five of its members in the Jenin area.
The PA, however, said the men belonged to Fatah, Hamas, and Palestinian Islamic Jihad and were arrested because of their role in an attack on a Palestinian police station in the village of Jaba’ near Jenin.
Two Palestinian Islamic Jihad operatives, Murad Malaisheh and Mohammed Barahmeh, were arrested by the PA security forces on the first day of the Israeli operation. According to their friends, they were arrested while they were on their way to Jenin Refugee Camp to join the fighting against Israeli troops. The two are not linked to the attack on the police station, which took place days after their incarceration.
Another two Palestinian Islamic Jihad activists, Jamil Ja’ar and Arkam Ahmaro, were arrested by the PA security forces last week in Tulkarem and Hebron.
Following the release of Abu Arra, Hamas announced that it has accepted Abbas’s invitation to participate in the meeting of the faction leaders in Cairo. Senior Hamas official Khalil al-Hayya said the upcoming meeting provides an opportunity for achieving national unity. Hamas, he added, will do its utmost to ensure the success of the meeting.