Israel arrests two senior Hamas officials in Hebron

Nayif Rajoub, whose brother is Fatah Secretary General Jibril Rajoub, and Hatem Qafisha to be detained briefly for unspecified interrogation, Shin Bet says

Masked members of Hamas ride a vehicle next to a rocket launcher during a rally in the Rafah refugee camp, Gaza Strip, Aug. 21, 2016 (AP Photo/Adel Hana)
Masked members of Hamas ride a vehicle next to a rocket launcher during a rally in the Rafah refugee camp, Gaza Strip, Aug. 21, 2016 (AP Photo/Adel Hana)

The Israel Defense Forces detained Hamas senior officials Nayif Rajoub and Hatem Qafisha in Hebron Sunday morning, according to the Palestinian Authority’s official WAFA news agency.

Rajoub, brother of Fatah Secretary General Jibril Rajoub, was formerly minister of religious affairs for the Gaza-based terror group, while Qafisha is the representative for Hebron in the Hamas-led Palestinian Legislative Council.

Hamas official Ahmad Bahr, head of the PLC in Gaza, condemned the arrests in a statement as “an attempt to isolate the Palestinian people from their representatives.”

Asked to comment on the detention of the two Hamas officials, the Shin Bet told The Times of Israel that Rajoub and Qafisha had been “detained for an interrogation, at the end of which they ought to be released.”

The Shin Bet declined to comment on the grounds for the interrogations.

Senior Fatah official Jibril Rajoub, in the West Bank city of Ramallah, attends by video conference a meeting with deputy Hamas chief Saleh Arouri (on screen from Beirut) discussing Israel’s plan to annex parts of the West Bank, on July 2, 2020. (Abbas Momani/AFP)

The arrests come as Fatah and Hamas have made public overtures of reconciliation toward each other in recent weeks in response to Israel’s threat to annex parts of the West Bank.

Fatah’s Jibril Rajoub announced last week the two factions would hold a joint rally in the Gaza Strip “in the coming days,” according to a statement published by WAFA.

“The rally will be a historic point in consolidating the united Palestinian position in the face of the annexation project,” Jibril Rajoub said, referring to Israel’s declared plan to annex parts of the West Bank in accordance with US President Donald Trump’s controversial peace plan — a plan that in recent weeks appears to have been put on the back burner amid a resurgent coronavirus and a hesitant White House.

According to Jibril Rajoub, both Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and other “national leaders” will speak at the event. It was unclear from the statement whether Abbas would participate by video, though that was highly likely.

The head of Hamas, Ismail Haniyeh, will also speak at the event, Hamas political bureau member Khalil al-Hayya said in a statement.

In this photo, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh speaks at the funeral of Qassem Soleimani, in Tehran, Iran, January 6, 2020. (Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader)

“This is a message to all sides. We are stressing the unified position of our people in all its factions and forces, wherever they are located, against the annexation plan,’” al-Hayya said.

Fatah and Gaza-based terror group Hamas have been bitterly divided since 2007, when a bloody civil war between the two rival Palestinian movements ended with Hamas expelling Fatah from the Gaza Strip. Several attempts have been made since to mend the rift in Palestinian politics, but so far none has been successful.

In what they called a step toward “national unity,” Jibril Rajoub and Hamas deputy Salih al-Arouri held a press conference on July 2 in which they announced that the two movements would coordinate on anti-annexation activities.

Also last week, Israel freed a senior leader of Hamas in the West Bank after 16 months in administrative detention. Hassan Yousef, a co-founder of the terror group, was arrested on April 2 last year at his home near Ramallah. He was freed on Thursday.

Hamas official Hassan Yousef at his office in Ramallah, July 30, 2015. (Elhanan Miller/Times of Israel)

“He is now at home and is in good health,” his son Owais Yousef told AFP on Thursday.

Following his arrest, Yousef was handed a six-month detention order that was extended for another six months and then for a further four, his son said. The 65-year-old, who has been arrested multiple times, had been released from a previous 10-month term of imprisonment in October 2018.

Administrative detention is a controversial practice of holding individuals Israel suspects of involvement in terrorism for extended periods without trial. Israel says it allows authorities to prevent attacks while continuing to gather evidence, but critics and rights groups say the system is abused.

Around 350 Palestinians were being held under administrative detention orders at the end of May, the latest data currently available, according to Israeli rights group B’Tselem.

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