In an apparent effort to forestall gains by Hamas in Palestinian elections, the Israeli army has arrested a large number of potential candidates in the southern part of the West Bank.
The arrests began shortly after midnight on Saturday in the town of Dura, nearly 50km south of Jerusalem, where the Israeli occupation army arrested an undisclosed number of Islamist leaders.
Local sources in the Hebron area said the detainees included Shaikh Nayif Rajub, imam of the town’s Grand Mosque, and Shaikh Fathi Amr, a high-ranking official in Hebron’s Islamic endowments department.
Rajub’s twin brother, Yasir, was also arrested. Both are brothers to Palestinian Authority official Jabril Rajub. Other figures arrested included Abd al-Jalil Katalu, a librarian, local businessman Husain Amr, and Ghassan Sharaha, a jewellery dealer.
All but one were undeclared candidates in the upcoming elections for the town’s municipal council. “They came around three o’clock,” said the wife of Shaikh Fathi Amr. “They started throwing large rocks on the outer door and, when we opened, they told us via loudspeakers they came to arrest Fathi.”
She told Aljazeera.net that the soldiers did not vandalise their home as they usually do when raiding Palestinian homes. Wafa Rajub, the wife of Nayif Rajub, said she was sure the arrests were linked to the upcoming local elections in Dura, scheduled for April.
“They simply want to dump all popular [Islamist] candidates in jail so that only supporters of Fatah could win,” she said. “Why don’t they say it clearly? ‘Don’t contend the elections or else you will be arrested’, and nobody would nominate himself.”
The Israeli army denied that the latest spate of arrests was aimed at preventing Hamas from making further gains in upcoming Palestinian elections. “We arrested those people as part of our war on terror. These are not political arrests,” said Israeli army spokesman Eitan Arusi.
He told Aljazeera.net the detainees were involved in “harmful political activities” and that the “interests of the Israeli defence forces necessitated their arrests.”
Hamas’ supporters made significant gains in the local and municipal elections which took place in 26 Palestinian communities in the West Bank on 23 December, gaining full or partial control over 13 local councils and municipalities.
According to opinion polls, Hamas and other Islamist groups have a strong populist backing, making the movement a serious competitor for the Fatah movement, the mainstream Palestinian Liberation Organisation faction and de facto ruling party in the Palestinian Authority.
The 26 localities where elections took place were considered traditional Fatah strongholds and Hamas’ achievements were viewed by Israel and some circles within the Palestinian Authority as a serious challenge.
Prior to the polls, the Israeli army arrested six independent Islamist candidates in the towns of Dahiriya and Jericho. However, at least four of the detained candidates were elected by a large margin, prompting Israel to step up its repression. Israel already detains as many as 8000 Palestinian political figures and resistance activists, 1000 of whom have been neither charged nor tried.
Khalid Amayreh is a journalist based in the occupied West Bank. This article was originally published by aljazeera.net and reprinted on EI with permission.