Hamas lawmakers arrested at Red Cross in Jerusalem

AP News
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Posted: Jan 23, 2012 12:07 PM
Hamas lawmakers arrested at Red Cross in Jerusalem

Two lawmakers from the militant Palestinian party Hamas were arrested after hiding for over a year inside a Red Cross compound in Jerusalem, an Israeli police spokesman said Monday.

The spokesman, Micky Rosenfeld, said the men were wanted for "Hamas activities." He would not elaborate.

Red Cross officials confirmed the men had been holed up inside. In a statement, the Red Cross said that Khaled Abu Arfa and Mohammed Totah sought refuge in the compound on July 1, 2010, to escape Israeli arrest.

Israel, the U.S., EU and Israel list Hamas as a terror group due to its suicide bombings and other attacks aimed at civilians that have killed hundreds of Israelis.

Israel bans Hamas from operating in Jerusalem. Last week Israel arrested the Hamas speaker of the Palestinian parliament.

Rosenfeld said the Hamas men were arrested when they ventured outside the Red Cross compound Monday.

Shortly after the arrests, a group of Palestinians forced their way into the Red Cross compound, Red Cross spokeswoman Cecilia Goin said. "They acted violently against Red Cross staff and then left," Goin said. Nobody was seriously hurt, she said.

Hamas spokesman Mushir al-Masri confirmed they were hiding at the Red Cross for a year and a half. "This is a Zionist crime," he said. "Their abduction is a violation of their rights."

Hamas lawmakers have taken refuge at the Red Cross compound before. Last September Israeli police arrested another Hamas lawmaker who had been hiding at the facility for a year.

The men were Hamas lawmakers in the Palestinian parliament, which has not functioned since Hamas seized control of Gaza in 2007 from the Palestinian Fatah Party of President Mahmoud Abbas.

They were among four Hamas officials Israel arrested in 2006 after an Israeli soldier was abducted by Gaza militants allied to the militant Islamic group.

After spending time in jail, they were ordered to leave Jerusalem but hid at the Red Cross instead to avoid expulsion.

"Hamas forcing itself on the Red Cross is not new," Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said. "It raises serious questions about the abuse by Hamas of Red Cross neutrality and about the impotence of the Red Cross to counter such abuse."

In July last year, Israel sought clarifications from the Red Cross following a demonstration outside the organization's Gaza headquarters for Palestinian prisoners held in Israel, including many involved in deadly attacks. Israel charged that the Red Cross helped organize the event and said such activities compromise its neutrality.