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PA transfers detainees from Bethlehem to Hebron

Jan. 3, 2011 3:31 P.M. (Updated: Jan. 7, 2011 4:20 P.M.)
HEBRON (Ma'an) -- A number of detainees in Palestinian Authority custody have been transferred from a detention center in Bethlehem to another in Hebron, at their request.

Bethlehem governor Abdul-Fattah Hamayil said the prisoners ended their hunger strike and began drinking liquids before their transfer to Hebron.

The decision to transfer the men came following a visit by Hamas lawmakers from Bethlehem in a bid to guarantee their release. The detainees are all affiliated with Hamas and seek release by PA intelligence officers, saying they have served enough time for their crimes.

PA officials have refused to release the men without conditions, saying they do not want to be held responsible if the men are re-detained by Israeli officials.

Hamas officials Anwar Az-Zboun and Mahmoud Al-Khatib explained that the four prisoners in question, all from Hebron, were detained for various reasons and held without being sentenced. The men have been held between one and two and a half years in the Bethlehem facility, for their support of the Palestinian resistance movements.

Though the acts they were detained for - including harboring a fugitive, storing weapons, and creating weapons storage facilities - are considered crimes by the Palestinian Authority security services, the men never saw a court room.

Hamas officials demanding their release say their continued detention is politically motivated, while PA officials say if the men were released, they would promptly be detained by Israeli forces for their resistance activities.

The Palestinian High Court ordered the release of two of the men, but intelligence officials continue to refuse to implement the decision.

The Bethlehem prisoners include Wael Sa’eed Al-Bitar, who was detained in June 2008 by what witnesses at the time said were Israeli forces. The arrest followed a violent standoff as Israeli forces surrounded and demolished Al-Bitar's home, after demanding he give up a man who was staying in the building and stood accused of assisting a resistance fighter. The home was demolished around Al-Bitar, and the alleged fighter he was harboring killed in the demolitions. Later reports said Al-Bitar was detained by PA intelligence officials.

Appeals to the Palestinian High Court resulted in orders demanding his release, as well as the release of Yousef Al-E’wewy. Also relocated were Wisam Azzam Al-Qawasmi, Muhand Naierukh, and Mohammad Al-E’wewy.

Efforts to mediate a release

A group of delegates from ten Palestinian human rights organizations visited the prisoners, as well as six others in Jericho whose release was also mandated by the High Court, and backed the initiative to have Hamas officials sign a paper assuming responsibility for the men.

The prisoners, however, who at that point had been on hunger strike for ten days, refused the deal, and suggested that rather than Hamas officials signing papers, that their families be able to assume responsibility for them.

The proposal was rejected, however, and as the prisoners' hunger strike went into its second week, the men returned to a diet of water, milk and salt, demanding that while mediation efforts continued, that they be moved to a facility in Hebron closer to their families, and be granted access to a radio inside the prison.

Mediation efforts secured the transfer of the men to a new prison location closer to home, but Hamas officials remain adamant that they be released.

The compromise

Upon their transfer, the Bethlehem governor said all detentions made by PA security forces were because of legal offenses, and that the PA did not carry out political arrests.

"If the PA had to perform politically-motivated detentions, everybody would have been detained," he said, seemingly implying that all Hamas leaders in the West Bank would have been arrested.

The governor also said all PA detention centers were monitored by human rights groups and by the PA itself.

"Before they talk about detention centers in the West Bank, let Hamas allow human rights groups to visit detention centers in Gaza," he added.

Ma'an's Editor-in-chief Nasser Lahham accompanied human rights groups when they visited Hamas-affiliated lawmakers Mahmoud Al-Khateib and Anwar Zboun in a Bethlehem detention center run by PA general intelligence.
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