Hamas alleged Tuesday that more than 200 of its members had been arrested by the Palestinian Authority recently, with most of them tortured, threatening to widen a rift between Palestinian factions.
This was the latest sign of failed reconciliation efforts between Hamas, the Islamist movement that rules the Gaza Strip, and the Palestinian Authority, which runs the West Bank, despite a unity deal signed last year.
“Hamas members in the occupied West Bank are being submitted to their worst campaign of arrests — their biggest and longest,” Hamas official Abdurahman Shadid told journalists.
He said more than 200 had been arrested since July 2 in the West Bank and “most have been severely tortured.”
The Palestinian Authority did not immediately respond to the claims, though one of its officials said last week that about 100 Hamas members had been arrested.
On Friday, a Palestinian Authority official told AFP that about 100 Hamas members had been arrested over alleged plans to attack the PA.
Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri called the allegations “cover for political arrests.”
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas was “entirely responsible for these maniacal arrests and the Hamas eradication project to the benefit of the occupier (Israel),” said Shadid.
He spoke of “limits to the people’s patience.”
The Palestinian unity agreement, signed in April 2014, sought to end years of bad blood between Fatah, Abbas’s party, and Hamas.
A unity government of technocrats was formed as a result, approved by both sides. But it has been ineffective and essentially barred from operating in Gaza, leaving Hamas in charge of the impoverished coastal enclave, which is under a strict Israeli and Egyptian blockade.
In recent days, and following conflicting reports of the cabinet’s resignation, Abbas has sought to reconstitute the unity government, which has further heightened tensions.
The Palestinian Authority also cooperates with Israel on security matters, and Hamas accused it of acting on the Jewish state’s behalf.
Israeli authorities have recently been under pressure to act after a series of gun and knife attacks against Israelis, in some cases near settlements, but there was no indication the arrests were linked.
The attacks are mostly believed to have been carried out by lone-wolf assailants.