By Hisham Abu Taha
GAZA CITY – An Israeli military court yesterday rejected bail for 21 Hamas officials arrested in a crackdown on the Palestinian ruling party and ruled that they should remain in detention pending further investigations.
The military judge ruled in favor of a request by Israeli prosecutors to hold the officials, including Parliament Speaker Aziz Dweik, in detention while their case is examined, the defendants’ attorney, Jawad Boulos, said.
Israeli Army radio quoted the judge as saying “there is enough evidence that the defendants belong to a terrorist organization to justify that they remain in detention until the end of the inquiry.” “They can’t hide behind their official duties,” the judge said.
On Sept. 12, a different judge at the court sitting in an Israeli base in the occupied West Bank ordered the men, who stand accused of membership of a “terrorist organization,” freed on bail of 25,000 shekels ($5,700) a head pending their case.
The judge said he was “not convinced” their continued detention was justified, but agreed to keep the men in detention pending a prosecutors’ appeal of the ruling, which was filed two days later.
Among those facing charges along with Dweik are Religious Affairs Minister Nayef Rajub, Jerusalem Affairs Minister Khaled Abu Arafeh, Local Government Minister Issa Al-Jaabari and Parliament Secretary-General Mahmud Ramahi.
The men are among scores of elected Hamas representatives arrested by troops in a massive West Bank sweep following the June 25 capture of Israeli soldier, Cpl. Gilad Shalit in a raid claimed jointly by its armed wing. Critics have charged that Israel detained the officials to use as bargaining chips for the missing soldier.
“The MPs and ministers are the bargaining chips for Israel until the Israeli soldier is released, and Israel does not want to lose a way of exerting pressure,” Boulos’ fellow defense lawyer Osama Al-Saadi charged last week.Dweik, who was arrested last month and charged on Aug. 22 with belonging to a terrorist organization, says Israel has no right to put him on trial.
“I think this detention is political and the fact that it continues is linked to the Shalit case,” he told journalists from the dock last week.
Israel arrested more than 60 Hamas officials, including a third of the cabinet and more than two dozen MPs, after the cross-border raid by Gaza fighters in which Shalit was captured and two others were killed.
Twenty-eight MPs and five Cabinet ministers remain in custody. Most of them have been charged with membership of a terrorist organization.
Meanwhile, Hamas and Fatah called off top-level talks yesterday on forming a Palestinian unity government that might ease crippling international sanctions, the latest indication of difficulties in bridging their huge philosophical differences.
President Mahmoud Abbas, the head of Fatah, postponed his planned trip to Gaza for talks with Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas, and both sides said no new date has been set.
-www.arabnews.com, with input from agencies