Hamas Frees Political Prisoners

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ISMAIL Haniya, the prime minister of the Hamas-run de facto government in Gaza, pledged to release all political prisoners on Thursday, and called on the Fatah-controlled government in the West Bank to do the same.

Seventeen prisoners, including Fatah’s secretary general of Gaza region, Abu Juda An-Nahhal, were released on Thursday as a gesture to create the atmosphere for the national Palestinian dialogue.

Haniya said the decision was a bid to ease tensions in advance of unity talks in Cairo.

The Hamas Prime Minister said that Hamas ‘wants to create a healthy atmosphere for the dialogue to succeed in.’

Hamas is set to commence direct talks with its rival, Fatah, at a summit meeting in Cairo in November.

A Fatah-Hamas unity government disintegrated in June 2007 following violent clashes.

In remarks during a police academy graduation speech, the Hamas prime minister noted that ‘due to calls from the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) and other factions, I have decided to release all political prisoners in Gaza.

‘I would like to announce in the name of the government that in order to prepare the ground for dialogue, our government has decided to respond favourably to calls for the release of political detainees,’ he added.

Hamas spokesman Hamas Taher al-Nunu said there are no more than about 20 political prisoners in Gaza and that all of them should be freed on Thursday.

Hamas and the rival Fatah movement have been invited to meet in Cairo on November 9 to discuss an Egyptian plan which aims to restore Palestinian unity.

The Popular Resistance Committees welcomed Haniya’s decision, also demanding that President Abbas follow suit.

However Fatah did not immediately reciprocate.

‘Releasing some of the Fatah political prisoners from Hamas interrogation centres in the Gaza Strip does not close the file on the political abductions and home arrests as a traditional behaviour conducted by Hamas in Gaza similar to the Israeli actions,’ claimed spokesman Fahmi Az-Za’arir.

‘Dozens of the Fatah members are still kidnapped in Hamas centres whether leaders or employees in the civil and security administrations, or those workers in the education or health sectors on the basis of views or political action,’ he added.

He continued: ‘It is better for them not to kidnap anyone for his view or affiliation in the first place.

‘If they were interested in dialogue, Hamas would have released Usam Al-Fara a member of the Fatah delegation then who was unable to participate in the previous meetings.

Separately, Hamas spokesperson, Sami Abu Zuhri said that the Egyptian draft proposal for Palestinian unity presented to the Palestinian factions ‘is a document to be discussed and is not a final one to be signed in accordance to what the movement had agreed on with the Egyptian officials.’

Commenting on reports that Egypt would reject any amendments to the document, Abu Zuhri said, ‘The success of the Cairo talks is due to responding to the amendments present by Hamas and other Palestinian main factions.’

He reaffirmed that the draft ‘is to be discussed and not the final one to sign.’

He denounced any move to exclude factions from taking part in the dialogue indicating that ‘this move would make the dialogue non-comprehensive, placing obstacles in front of reaching serious outcomes to which all factions are committed to.’

Meanwhile, a member of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) executive committee, Ghassan Ash-Shak’ah, welcomed the decision by Hamas de facto Prime Minister Ismail Haniya on Thursday to release the political prisoners.

Haniya announced the decision on Thursday in an attempt to create goodwill in advance of a planned reconciliation summit in Cairo.

‘I welcome this move and demand more such steps to create the opportunity for a real dialogue.

‘The problem is Palestinian; the solution should be Palestinian,’ he said.

The PLO is an umbrella organisation that does not include Hamas.

At a press conference in the West Bank city of Nablus, Ash-Shak’ah also denied reports that Palestinian officials are seeking to elect a vice president to serve under President Mahmud Abbas.

‘The meeting of the central council of the PLO will be held in November in Ramallah with the issue of approving the law of elections of a new Palestinian National Council on its agenda,’ he said.

Concerning the Cairo talks Ash-Shak’ah said that ‘the internal Palestinian situation had produced two different systems and policies because of the division between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

‘No success is achieved for any Palestinian project whatsoever with the division still among the Palestinians.

‘Cairo had played a great role in ending the intra-Palestinian division in cooperation with the Arab League,’ he said.

Ash-Shak’ah said Arab states would monitor the implementation of any agreement made in Cairo.

‘Anyone who does not implement the outcomes of Cairo talks does not want Palestine,’ said Ash-Shak’ah.