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Palestinian lawmaker freed after year in prison

Speaker of the Palestinian parliament Aziz Duweik, was arrested a year ago ahead of the Israeli offensive on Gaza
Hamas MPs in Rafah on 23 February 2014 (AFP)

Israeli authorities on Tuesday released the speaker of the Palestinian parliament, Aziz Duweik, following a year in detention.

Duweik was released from the Ofer prison near Ramallah after paying a fine of 6,000 shekels ($1,565), according to the Ahrar Centre for Prisoners and Human Rights Studies.

A member of Hamas, Duweik was detained from his home in Hebron during a massive arrest campaign in June 2014, known as "Operation Brother's Keeper," which was carried out in search of three missing teenage settlers.

By the end of the campaign, when the bodies of the three teenagers were found on 30 June, Israel had arrested hundreds of Palestinians, most of them members of Hamas, including leaders and members of the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC), Palestine's parliament.

Commentators suggested that the incident had been staged to drive a wedge between Hamas and Fatah, and end a national unity government formed a month earlier, reported Ma'an News Agency.

More than 14 court sessions were held for Duweik during his year-long detention, the Ahrar Centre said.

Elected Speaker of the PLC in 2006, Duweik had previously been arrested by the Israeli government on three separate occasions between 2006 and 2014.

Hamas lawmaker Ahmad Attoun condemned Duweik’s imprisonment as a move against Palestinian legitimacy and a tool of oppression by the Israeli government.

“Duweik has been sentenced only because he represents his people. He is being tried just because he was elected by the Palestinians. This is a political trial,” Attoun told Middle East Eye ahead of Duweik’s release.

And although Duweik has been released, Professor Abd Alsattar Qasim from Bier Ziet University believes it is only a matter of time before Duweik is returned to Israeli prisons.

“Duweik is out for the time being, but he will soon return. Israel does not respect the people’s will. His every move is being followed and Israel has no need to find evidence against him. It is sufficient that he be accused of affiliation with Hamas in order to arrest him again,” Qasim said.

Duweik is among many Palestinian political leaders to have spent time in Israeli prisons, with 12 other members of the PLC currently behind bars, in contravention of international law according to rights groups.

Many have been held under administrative detention without trial, most recently PLC member Khalida Jarrar, who has been held since 2 April.

Jarrar's detention has sparked international outcry, forcing Israel to bring her case to trial. However, despite an Israeli military court decision to release the leader on bail, the decision was later overturned, and she continues to be held.

According to Khalied Abu Arafeh, former minister of Jerusalem who has been imprisoned many times and barred from entering Jerusalem: “Duweik’s arrest is part of a policy used by Israel to silence Palestinians and disrupt their choice of a representative.”

“When the results of an election do not serve the interests of Israel, they do not accept them,” added Arafeh.

The majority of Palestinian political organisations are considered illegal by Israel, including those that make up the PLO, and association with such parties is often used as grounds for imprisonment, according to the Palestinian prisoners' rights group, Addameer.

The PLC has not met since 2007, following a major rift between the Fatah and Hamas, which saw Hamas forcibly expel Fatah loyalists from Gaza.