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Palestinian Authority Detains 100 Hamas Supporters in West Bank as Unity Pact Crumbles

Around 50 supporters of the Islamist group were arrested over the past two days alone. Hamas has also detained members of President Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah in Gaza.

by Harriet Salem
Mar 10 2015, 3:27pm

In a series of late-night and dawn raids, the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority (PA) has arrested around 50 supporters of Hamas in West Bank over the last two days, plunging relations between the two squabbling Palestinian factions to a new low.

As many as 100 Hamas and Islamic Jihad supporters, including university students, party leaders, journalists and writers, have reportedly been arrested by the PA over the last two weeks.

The sweep, the largest of its kind in years, follows the Friday arrests of around 20 Fatah members in Gaza, which is governed by Hamas. January also saw a wave of detentions by both camps.

While Hamas and Fatah agreed to form a unity government in April to end a seven-year rift, last summer's bloody war between Israel and Hamas militants in Gaza and disputes over wages has hampered practical implementation of the deal. Since then, relations have slowly deteriorated.

Reconstruction efforts in Gaza, where whole districts were obliterated during the war, have faltered due to ongoing bickering between the two factions, the PA's financial woes and tight restrictions on the movement of building materials into the marooned strip by Israel.

In a statement released on Monday, the PA denied the recent arrests of Hamas supporters was political and claimed the detainees had committed "criminal offenses." The operation was carried out in" accordance with the law," it added.

Hamas spokesperson Ismail al-Askar retorted by calling the raids an "act of national betrayal" and "a knife in the back of the Palestinian people."

Hamas officials also said that the arrests contradicted the recent resolutions of the PLO Central Council that called for both "national reconciliation" and an "end to all forms of security cooperation with Israel."

"We hold President [Mahmoud] Abbas personally responsible for the aggressive campaign against Hamas in the West Bank," said Fawzi Barhoum, another Hamas spokesman. "It is part of a dual campaign by the Zionist enemy (Israel) and the Palestinian Authority to uproot Hamas and the resistance."

Hamas has also come under increased pressure on another flank after a court ruling last month in neighboring Egypt declared it a terrorist organization. The Islamist group is an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, which was banned as a terrorist organization after the Egyptian army ousted one of its leaders, Mohamed Morsi, from the presidency. The border between Egypt and Gaza was briefly open on Monday but has been largely closed following the 2013 coup.

Main image: Palestinians at a rally to demand an end to factional divisions, at an April 2014 rally in Gaza City.

Follow Harriet Salem on Twitter: @HarrietSalem