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Palestinian MPs accuse Israel of unprecedented crackdown

Source: Reuters - Fri, 22 Aug 2014 15:30 GMT
Author: Reuters
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* Dozens of West Bank MPs jailed or in special detention

* Israeli-Arab Knesset members investigated for Qatar trip

* Israel says they are undermining security

By Noah Browning

RAMALLAH, West Bank, Aug 22 (Reuters) - Palestinian lawmakers have accused Israel of an anti-democratic crackdown as the Gaza war rages, with dozens of elected officials detained, placed under investigation or restricted in their movements.

Of the 84 MPs elected to the Palestinian parliament from the West Bank and East Jerusalem in 2006, 36 are in Israeli jails, two-thirds of them under what is known as "administrative detention", where the evidence against them is not disclosed.

The measures are the among the harshest ever against elected Palestinians in the occupied territories and come on top of restrictions imposed on Arab-Israelis in the Israeli parliament.

In the latest move, Khalida Jarrar, an MP from Ramallah, the main city in the West Bank, said she was woken up by Israeli troops in the early hours of Wednesday and told she had 24 hours to leave the city and move to Jericho, in the desert.

The military said Jarrar, a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine - a party with an armed wing that is regarded as a terrorist group by Israel - had been "actively inciting for violent actions against Israel".

"Even speech has become illegal in their ad hoc and contrived legal system," said Mona Mansour, a Palestinian MP from the northern city of Nablus and one of the few elected Hamas officials not in prison.

"Politicians have no role in military activity," she said. "What (the Israelis) are doing violates Palestinians' right to representation as enshrined in international law."

Yigal Palmor, a spokesman for the Israeli foreign ministry, said it should not be a surprise that MPs from Hamas and other groups were detained since membership of a terrorist organisation fighting Israel would "constitute a violation".

As well as the detention of parliamentarians in the occupied West Bank, Israel has taken steps against Arab-Israeli members of its own parliament, the Knesset.

Around a fifth of Israel's 8 million people are Arab-Israeli - Palestinians who hold Israeli citizenship - although they have only 12 of the 120 seats in parliament.

Three of those Arab-Israeli MPs are under investigation for having visited Qatar this week, a trip the Knesset's ethics committee said was not authorised. Qatar is a significant ally of Hamas, the militant group fighting Israel in Gaza.

Bassel Ghattas, a member of the left-wing Balad party and one of those who travelled to Qatar, said he went to appear on al-Jazeera TV and carry out other media interviews. He accused Israel of being intolerant of criticism.

"Whether inside Israel or in the occupied territories, (they) cannot tolerate the presence of Arab parliamentarians being active and critical," he told Reuters.

Haneen Zoabi, another Balad MP, was banned last month from speaking in the Knesset for six months after she said the Palestinians accused of abducting and killing three Israeli teenagers in June were not terrorists.

While she can still vote, the ban is the harshest ever imposed on a Knesset member, officials say.

Israeli police this week recommended that Zoabi be charged after she accused Arab-Israeli policemen of being collaborators for arresting citizens protesting against the Gaza war. (Editing by Luke Baker and Louise Ireland)

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