Hamas-Fatah truce to kick off with reciprocal prisoner release

Hamas deputy says parties will allow press freedom and stop harassing opponents even before government is formed

Elhanan Miller is the former Arab affairs reporter for The Times of Israel

Hamas frees Fatah prisoners from a Gaza jail as a goodwill gesture, January 2014 (photo credit: Wissam Nassar/Flash90)
Hamas frees Fatah prisoners from a Gaza jail as a goodwill gesture, January 2014 (photo credit: Wissam Nassar/Flash90)

Rival political parties Hamas and Fatah will immediately release political prisoners belonging to the other group, expanding political freedom in territories under their respective control, a Hamas parliamentarian said on Thursday.

Ismail Al-Ashqar, a member of the freedoms committee established under the reconciliation agreement Fatah and Hamas signed last week, told Hamas’s Al-Resalah newspaper that five of the 10 issues discussed in the first committee meeting Wednesday will be implemented even before a government took shape. According to the deal, a  technocrat unity government was to be formed within five weeks.

According to Ashqar, both Fatah and Hamas will immediately release all political prisoners arrested following Hamas’s violent takeover of the Gaza Strip in 2007; will allow political freedom “with no intervention or limitations”; will stop political arrests and harassment; and will allow freedom of press and freedom of travel to members of the rival group.

“The committee has demanded the immediate implementation [of these issues],” Ashqar told Al-Resalah. “Any side that impedes them will bear full responsibility for thwarting the reconciliation.” 

Currently, official Palestinian Authority newspapers are banned in Gaza, and Hamas publications are outlawed in the West Bank. Organization members are regularly summoned for investigations by the opposition’s government, and are often imprisoned without trial.

The atmosphere of detente was clearly felt in the West Bank city of Al-Bireh, near Ramallah, on Wednesday, as some 1,000 Hamas supporters took to the streets for the funeral of brothers Adel and Imad Awadallah, Hamas leaders killed by Israel in 1998. The bodies of the two brothers, and that of a Hamas suicide bomber, were handed over by Israel earlier that day.

A number of “personal freedom” issues were postponed to wait for the decision of the unity government to be formed by June, Ashqar said. These include reemploying civil servants sacked for their political affiliation, allowing the operation of charities associated with the political movements, stopping political background screening, and allowing Fatah members banished by Hamas from Gaza to return.

Hisham Abdul Razeq, a former PA minister for prisoner affairs and member of the freedoms committee, was skeptical that any progress would be made before the new government is formed.

“We haven’s succeeded much in the past with many of the issues,” Abdul Razeq told Ma’an news agency on Wednesday. “But we are facing a new stage which will begin in earnest with the formation of the provisional government representing all Palestinians.”

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