ISRAELI forces detained Palestinian lawmaker Muhammad Abu Tair and at least 22 others from across occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank during raids carried out early on Thursday.
The head of the Jerusalem Committee for Families of Prisoners, Amjad Abu Asab, said that Abu Tair, member of the Palestinian Legislative Council, was detained from his home in the neighbourhood of Kafr Aqab north of occupied East Jerusalem.
The Ahrar Centre for Prisoners Studies and Human Rights condemned Abu Tair’s detention, with the head of the centre Fouad al-Khafsh calling the detention raid a ‘war crime’. The 65-year-old MP has spent at least 32 years in Israeli prison previously, and saw his permanent residency status in Jerusalem revoked on October 8, 2010 after five months of detention.
He joins at least six other PLC members held in Israeli prisons including Hatim Qafisha, a Hamas-affiliated MP who was detained on Sunday. Seven other Palestinians were detained from the Jerusalem area, several of whom were minors.
Abu Asab identified four detainees as Nabil Abd al-Latif, Mahmoud Nasser, Muhammad al-Deisi and Shadi Attiyeh, a minor, who were detained from the Old City, Kafr Aqab and al-Issawiya neighbourhoods.
A lawyer for prisoners rights group NGO Addameer, Muhammad Mahmoud, meanwhile identified three detainees as Tamer Bay, 14, and Akram Mustafa, 15, from al-Issawiya and Khalil Issa, 15, from Shufat.
An Israeli army spokesperson said that two people were detained in Kafr Aqab, saying they were ‘Hamas terror operatives’. Israeli forces also carried out predawn detention raids across towns and villages in the West Bank, detaining at least 13 Palestinians.
Locals from the Beit Umra neighbourhood in the Hebron-area town of Yatta said that Israeli forces raided the area and detained Tareq Anwar Idies and Muhammad Rasmi al-Imor, adding that three others were also detained from the Hebron area.
Locals said that the home of Amjad al-Jundi, a resident of the neighbourhood, was ransacked by Israeli soldiers who forced members of his family to wait outside in cold weather during a search.
Forces also raided the village of Tuqu southeast of Bethlehem overnight and detained Muhammad Ibrahim Suleiman al-Shair, 21, a third-year law student at the al-Quds University in Abu Dis.
An Israeli army spokesperson confirmed to Ma’an five detentions in the Hebron area, adding that three (more) were detained in the Ramallah area, two near Bethlehem, two near Nablus, and one northeast of Tulkarem. The Israeli army spokesperson said that all were detained in the West Bank over suspicions of ‘illegal activities’ and of being ‘Hamas operatives’.
According to prisoner’s rights organisation Addameer, at least 6,800 Palestinians were held in Israeli prisons in December, including five members of the Palestine Liberation Organisation’s Palestinian Legislative Council and 470 minors.
• Hamas’ military wing announced on social media on Thursday that seven of its fighters were killed when a tunnel collapsed in the northern Gaza Strip on Tuesday. ‘Al-Qassam Brigades mourn the death of seven Qassam members who were (killed) during their work inside resistance tunnels in Gaza,’ the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades posted on their Twitter account.
The group identified those who died in the tunnel as Thabet al-Rifi, Ghazwan al-Shubaki, Izz al-Din Qassem, Wassim Hassouneh, Mahmoud Basal, Nidal Odeh, and Jaafar Hamadeh.
Hamas security sources had previously said in a statement that more than 10 fighters were in a tunnel when it collapsed due to heavy rain on Tuesday. The Qassam Brigades said the fighters had been working on rebuilding the tunnel at the time of the accident.
The fate of the remaining fighters had yet to be specified.
Earlier in January, an al-Qassam member was killed by an electric shock in a tunnel in the southern Gaza Strip. Gaza’s tunnel networks are notoriously dangerous. The Institute for Palestine Studies reported in 2012 that Hamas authorities had counted 160 deaths inside the tunnels since the Israeli blockade began in 2007, and in August 2014, al-Jazeera reported that figure to be as high as 400.
While the tunnels are used by Hamas as a source of tax revenue and inflow of weapons, they also supply highly-demanded necessities for Gaza’s 1.8 million residents under the blockade, including food, medicine, as well as infrastructure materials like concrete and fuel.
The movement has reportedly expanded the tunnel network – used mainly for military purposes in the northern Gaza Strip and smuggling in the south – since Israel’s 2014 offensive on the besieged enclave left much of it destroyed.
Senior Hamas official Ismail Haniyeh Israel last month said: ‘Resistance is now stronger than it was during the last war,’ warning that Israeli forces would face a ‘heavy toll’ if they carried out another war, without specifying efforts in tunnel expansion.
Reported continuation of tunnel rehabilitation comes as the head coordinator of Israeli government activity in the occupied Palestinian territory threatened earlier this week to seal crossings between Israel and the besieged Gaza Strip due to recent activity by Hamas.
• In defiance of mounting international criticism, Israel has started to formally approve a burst of new settler housing construction across the occupied Palestinian territory. Israeli media reported on Tuesday that Israel’s Civil Administration had approved a further 153 settler units in settlements across the West Bank last week.
The approval reportedly came through for 65 homes in the settlements of Etz Efraim and Rachelim in Nablus, 28 apartments in Carmel in the South Hebron Hills, and another 60 in Alon Shvut in the Gush Etzion settlement bloc south of Bethlehem.
A spokesperson for Israel’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) declined to comment, but Israeli daily Haaretz said the plans effectively put an end to an ‘informal construction freeze’ that had lasted about 18 months.