RAMALLAH // Israeli forces arrested 23 Hamas members, including three parliamentarians, in West Bank raids yesterday that Palestinian officials decried as an attempt to derail renewed Hamas-Fatah reconciliation efforts.
Israel's military confirmed to Israeli and Palestinian media that it had carried out the arrests from the southern city of Hebron all the way to Nablus in the north, although it declined to elaborate further.
"Israel is playing the role as the spoiler and it's trying to send a message that it has the upper hand and that the two factions will never enjoy peace and harmony," said Sabri Saidam, the deputy secretary general of Fatah's Revolutionary Council.
Last month, the factions agreed in the Egyptian capital to carry out the pact's requirements of forming an interim government before holding national elections.
Yesterday, Mahmoud Abbas, Fatah's chairman and Palestinian Authority (PA) president, was scheduled to travel to Cairo for discussions on ending the division with Hamas, which violently wrested control of Gaza from Fatah in 2007.
Although Mr Abbas's forces have coordinated with Israel's military in arresting Hamas members, both factions have released each other's members from their respective jails.
The Islamist group condemned the Israeli arrests that included three of its members elected to the Palestine Legislative Council (PLC), vowing in a statement that Israel "will not succeed in stopping their struggle".
Concern in Israel over Hamas influence in the West Bank rose after the PA permitted its members to stage a large rally in Nablus in December.
That followed similar rallies held in the West Bank administrative capital of Ramallah as well as in Gaza, where Israel battled Hamas forces during an eight-day war in November that killed 177 Palestinians and five Israelis.
Since then, Palestinians in the West Bank have experienced an escalation in raids by Israel's military. Late last month, several hundred Israeli soldiers swept through villages near the northern city of Jenin in what residents there described as the largest such incursion in a decade.
"These raids and arrests have been increasing for the last three months, and it's not just Hamas - it's also Fatah members who are being arrested," said Anan Attereh, deputy governor of Nablus, adding that Israel's arrest of Hamas-linked figures was designed to "stop reconciliation".
The three PLC members Israel arrested yesterday have been identified as Ahmed Attoun, Mohammed Tal and Hatem Qafisha, members of the Hamas Change and Reform list that swept parliamentary elections in 2006, said Mourad Jadallah, a legal researcher at Addameer, a non-profit organisation that supports Palestinian prisoners. He said that 16 PLC members are currently imprisoned in Israel.