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Israel frees Palestinian parliament speaker

Israeli authorities on June 9 released the speaker of the Palestinian parliament, Aziz Duweik, following a year in administrative detention. The Ahrar Center for Prisoners and Human Rights Studies said that Duweik, 67, was released from the Ofer prison near Ramallah after paying a fine of 6,000 shekels ($1,565). Duweik, who is a member of Hamas, 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. During the campaign, which lasted until June 30 when their bodies were found, Israel 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 Israel's real motive had been to drive a wedge between Hamas and Fatah, which earlier that month formed a national unity government.

Elected speaker of the PLC in 2006, Duweik had previously been arrested by Israel forces three separate times between 2006 and 2014. During a stint in prison in 2008, the imprisoned leader praised efforts by Fatah and Hamas toward forming a unity government, saying: "The honest support for a national unity government—with all its contents—will spare great effort on all sides."

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 April 2. 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. Official charges made against Jarrar included membership of an illegal organization, carrying out services for the illegal organization, participation in protests and incitement to violence.

The majority of Palestinian political organizations 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 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.

From Ma'an News Agency, June 9

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