City's mayor released after 4 years in administrative detention.
By KHALED ABU TOAMEH
Islamic religious leaders in this city have signed a petition calling on the new Hamas cabinet to shut down the local YMCA under the pretext that it is involved in "missionary activities." The Hamas-controlled municipality has expressed its support for the call.
The campaign against the YMCA began earlier this week when arsonists set fire to some of its offices.
Meanwhile, Israel on Thursday released Kalkilya Mayor Wajih Kawwas after four years in administrative detention. He was elected as mayor last year while he was still in prison. He ran on Hamas's Change and Reform List, which won all the seats in the municipal election.
Kawwas was received by hundreds of Hamas supporters here who chanted slogans in support of the Islamic group.
The petition against the YMCA was signed by Sheikh Salah Eddin Sabri, the mufti of Kalkilya, more than 40 mosque imams, representatives of the municipality and clan leaders and officials from various Islamic institutions.
"The presence of such an organization in Kalkilya will create many problems and spread dissension," they wrote. "How can there be such an organization in a city which does not even have one Christian living in it?"
Residents of the city told The Jerusalem Post the campaign against the YMCA had been initiated by local Hamas leaders. "We want the YMCA here," said Ahmed Nazzal, a high school teacher. "The presence of such organizations in the city will only benefit the young people. Not everyone here agrees with Hamas's drive to kick out the YMCA."
Fatah activists accused Hamas of standing behind the attempt to torch the YMCA offices. "We strongly condemn this despicable attempt against an international organization," one activist said. "Some imams and religious leaders have been inciting against the YMCA for several weeks. But the majority of the people here don't agree with them."
A leaflet distributed by a number of secular groups and institutions expressed deep regret over "irresponsible" attempts to expel the YMCA from the city. The flier also denounced the attack on the organization's offices.
"We reject attempts by some people to take the law into their own hands," it added. "This attack is not in line with the traditions and culture of our people. We call on the Palestinian security forces to launch an investigation into this attack on the YMCA and to impose the rule of law."
Other sources here said Hamas was not alone in the campaign. The Islamic Liberation Party, another fundamentalist group with a large following in the city, has also called for closing down the YMCA under the pretext that its members might try to convert Muslims to Christianity.
However, the Post has learned that the former Fatah cabinet had also decided to close the YMCA branch after many residents expressed their opposition to the presence of a Christian institution in their city. The closure order was issued only three days before the January 25, 2006 parliamentary election that saw Hamas score a landslide victory.
Following the order, the organization suspended its activities for a short period. After receiving guarantees from local residents that its workers would not be harmed, the YMCA recently reopened, offering various services to young men. The director of the branch, Yusef Madi, vehemently denied allegations that the YMCA was involved in any kind of missionary activity.
The PA-appointed governor of Kalkilya, Mustafa Malki, came out in defense of the YMCA, pointing out that all its workers were Muslims. "I reject the talk about missionary activities," he said. "All the non-governmental organizations operating in the Palestinian territories are run or funded by Christians. I never heard anyone object to their presence." â€¢
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