Despite the talk about holding new general elections, the Palestinian Authority and Hamas are continuing to crack down on each other’s supporters in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
The clampdown comes as representatives of several Palestinian factions, including the ruling Fatah faction and Hamas, are expected to meet in the Egyptian capital of Cairo soon to discuss ways of ensuring the success of the elections.
On January 15, PA President Mahmoud Abbas announced that the parliamentary election would be held on May 22. The presidential election, he said in a “presidential decree,” would be held on July 31. In late August, Palestinians will also vote for the PLO’s legislative body, the Palestinian National Council.
Abbas’s announcement was made despite that his Fatah faction and Hamas had failed to reach agreement to solve their dispute, which reached its peak with the 2007 Hamas takeover of the Gaza Strip.
Hamas has expressed readiness to participate in the elections. The Palestinian Islamic Jihad organization, the second-largest terror group in the Gaza Strip, has indicated that it may boycott the elections, as it has done in the past.
No date has been set for the start of the discussions in Cairo.
On Sunday, Palestinian sources said that PA security forces arrested five men in the West Bank on suspicion of being affiliated with Hamas. One of the detainees, Ameed Shehadeh, is a journalist from Nablus. The sources said he was arrested for criticizing the PA in a Facebook post.
Also in Nablus, the PA security forces arrested Qassam Sabbah, who was recently released from Israeli prison and An-Najah University student Hussam Shtayyeh.
In Hebron, the PA’s Preventive Security Service arrested Muhab al-Juneidi one week after his wedding. In the town of Salfit, Abdullah Abdel Fattah was also arrested by the PA security forces.
Last week, the PA security forces arrested Nablus lawyer Awni al-Sharif on charges of “insulting” the Palestinian leadership on social media platforms.
According to the sources, the latest arrests are in the context of the PA’s ongoing crackdown on its political rivals in the West Bank, including those suspected of being affiliated with Hamas.
“The actions of the Palestinian Authority show that it is not serious about holding free elections,” said a Palestinian human rights activist. “If people are being arrested for supporting Hamas or criticizing President Abbas, how can we talk about free elections?”
Last week, Palestinian officials in Ramallah accused Hamas of continuing its crackdown on Fatah members in the Gaza Strip, notwithstanding Abbas’s call for holding general elections.
The officials said that three senior Fatah activists – Ahmad Naji, Mustafa al-Shannat and Shukri Abu al-Hosseen – were summoned for interrogation by Hamas’ Internal Security Force.
“Hamas is continuing to harass and intimidate Fatah members in the Gaza Strip,” said a Palestinian official in Ramallah. “Hamas’ actions are aimed at intimidating Fatah and foiling the upcoming elections.”