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Hamas' Dweik has "message of unity" in first interview since release from Israeli detention

June 24, 2009 7:53 P.M. (Updated: June 24, 2009 7:53 P.M.)
Hebron - Ma'an Exclusive - Freed Hamas leader Aziz Dweik was released from Israeli prison Tuesday, and gave an exclusive interview to Ma'an where he spoke at length about his quest for unity, and the validity of his arrest at the hands of Israel.

Dweik was taken by Israeli forces in July 2006 following the capture of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit in Gaza. Dweik was one of more than two dozen PLC members taken by Israeli forces that summer. He was sentenced to three years detention.

"I was not released early" said Dweik, though Israel announced his sentence would end in August 2009. "I should have been released the day after I was detained."

On his time in prison he called every day after his detention a "sin," and condemned Israel for the detention of more than 40 PLC members and their attempts to intervene in Palestinian legislative elections.

"They intended to isolate us from our families and from our role in society," Dweik said.

A Quest for Unity

Since he was released Dweik has addressed the issue of Palestinian factionalism and condemned the Fatah-Hamas split as something that only hurts the Palestinian cause. Hours after his arrival in the West Bank, Dweik addressed the public on the steps of the PLC, and promised to work for unity.

During his interview, Dweik also promised that the PLC members in the West Bank would meet soon and discuss the issue of unity.

"I hold a message from all Palestinian detainees to all the free Palestinians," Dweik said during the first moments of the interview, "which is to unite and work as one hand to avoid all internal clashes."

Unity was the central theme for the Hamas-affiliated politician, and he mentioned several times that his current "duty is to fulfill the needs and desires of Palestinians," he said he would work to "bleach the hearts of Palestinians and start a new, clean page" in Palestinian history.

"I hold a message of unity," Dweik said, and added that he respects "all the Palestinian figures affiliated to all factions."

On Gaza

Hamas members in Gaza were slow to welcome Dweik and congratulate him on his release. Notably, both Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad called Dweik as he entered the West Bank. Late in Tuesday night de facto Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh released a statement calling Dweik's release a "triumph."

Language was welcoming but luke warm; Haniyeh said Hamas was "satisfied" with "Dweik's release as he represents originality and he is keen on the reconciliation and ending the [Palestinian] division to achieve freedom."

Dweik, though he remains a staunch Hamas member, did not have strong comments to make about the political situation in the Gaza Strip, or ideological differences between the West Bank and the coastal area.

"I see the Gaza Strip as a sad but at the same time hopeful situation," he said. "I see hope in [Gazan's] steadfastness and I call to lift the blockade imposed."

Sending words to Hams leader in exile Khalid Mash'al, Dweik asked him to support unity and to work only "for the sake of the people."

Dweik also expressed little hope for the release of captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. "It may be soon and it may not be soon," he said despite recent rumors of an imminent prisoner swap.

He did, however, take the same line as Hamas critics on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's most recent policy speech. "Netenyahu played with words," Dweik said "he just played with the words to deceive us."

"Who has patience will win"

Dweik extolled steadfastness and patience during his interview, but warned Palestinians that they must make use of their time waiting for peace. "As time passes, the settlements are increasing and when the time comes for peace, there will be no land left for us to build a state on."

He repeated several times during the interview that Palestinians must be "more clever" or else they will be left "biting their fingers" in the years to come.

Addressing US President Barack Obama, Dweik had a simple message, "We want good deeds like your good statements."

***Aziz Dweik was interviewed by Ma'an's Chief Editor Nasser Lahham; the interview will air on Palestine TV during the show, Hard Questions.

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