The head of the Palestinian Legislative Council, Aziz Dweik was detained by Israeli forces on January 19. At a checkpoint near Ramallah, the Hamas-supported senior politician was handcuffed, blindfolded and detained for two hours before he was officially arrested and taken to an undisclosed location. The reason for Dweik’s arrest is suspicion that he is member of a “terrorist group”. In 2006 Dweik was arrested and held for three years in relation to Hamas’ capture of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.
Hours after Dweik was taken into custody on Thursday, Israeli forces raided the house of Palestine Legislative Council member Khaled Tahesh Dweib in Bethlehem. Dweib too was arrested and his computer and mobile phone were confiscated. According to an Israeli military spokesman, Dweib was also arrested on “suspicion of involvement with terrorists”. According to prisoner support and human rights association Addameer, this recent round of arrests brings the number of Legislative Council members imprisoned by Israel to 25.
The Palestinian Authority has condemned the arrest of Dweik and Palestinian officials said they will mount a campaign for his release. Hamas said the arrest was intended to undermine its recent attempts at reconciliation with Fatah.
Speaking at a Gaza mosque after Friday prayers on January 20, Hamas PM Ismail Haniyeh said he was calling for an urgent session of the Legislative Council to discuss the arrests. Following the arrest of the two legislators, Haniyeh further urged President Mahmoud Abbas to suspend meetings with Israeli representatives in Jordan. In these meetings, Palestinian negotiators had put forward proposals on security and borders but expectations have been low for the bid to get formal peace talks with Israel started again.
Two people were killed and at least another three injured when Israeli forces opened fire on the northern Gaza Strip close to the border with Israel on January 18. The Gaza health ministry said that Muhammad Shaker Abu Odeh was pronounced dead at the scene. Seventeen-year old Ahmad Al-Zaaneen died shortly after in the hospital. A spokeswoman from the Israeli military said the target was “a terrorist squad that was attempting to place an explosive device by the security fence”. Witnesses told Ma’an that planes and tanks fired against the city of Beit Hanoun at least four times and ambulances were not initially able to reach the scene due to the continuous fire and heavy shooting. According to heath officials, one ambulance sustained damage.
This week President Abbas has visited European UN Security Council member countries Germany, the UK and Russia. According to a Fatah official, the visits demonstrate Palestine’s determination to pursue membership at the United Nations.
During his three-day visit to Germany, Abbas met with Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin on January 19. Here Abbas praised Germany’s role in the peace process, saying that Germany is a friend of Palestine as well as Israel. Merkel said that Germany supports the talks between PLO and Israeli envoys in Amman this month.
Late Thursday Abbas arrived in Moscow, where he will stay for six days and meet Russian President Medvedev and Foreign Minister Lavrov and discuss political issues related to the peace process. Russia is a member of the international Quartet that is currently sponsoring talks to reopen negotiations with Israel.
Earlier this week, Abbas was in the UK and met with Prime Minister David Cameron. On January 16, Britain condemned Israeli settlements as “deliberate vandalism” of efforts to establish a Palestinian state. These comments, made by Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg are some of Britain’s strongest yet on the matter. “Once you place physical facts on the ground which makes it impossible to deliver what everyone has for years agreed is the ultimate destination, then you do immense damage” Clegg told reporters, continuing: “It’s an act of deliberate vandalism to the basic premise upon which negotiations have taken place for years and that is why we have expressed our concerns as a government in increasingly forceful terms.” He prefaced his comments by saying there was no stronger supporter of Israel than himself.
On Friday, January 20, a spokesman from the Foreign Ministry of Thailand informed the Palestinian delegation and all member states at the United Nations that it “has given recognition to the state of Palestine”. Thailand has friendly ties with Israel and is a major tourist destination for Israeli travelers. Foreign Minister Riyad Al Maliki hailed the move, saying that “Thailand’s recognition of a Palestinian state is the first of the New Year 2012 and is a new achievement for Palestinian diplomacy.” Thailand’s recognition brings the number of countries that recognize the Palestinian state to 131.
On Friday, January 20, a 17-year old boy was detained by Israeli forces in the Hebron-area village of Beit Ummar. This happened after a group of Israelis from a nearby settlement toured its northern neighborhood carrying weapons and throwing stones while being escorted by the army, sparking clashes with village residents. Israeli forces protected the settlers and fired tear gas and rubber bullets towards Beit Ummar residents.
On the same day, January 20, two children were injured when ordnance exploded near Yatta south of Hebron. The children who are 11 and 13 years old were taken to a hospital and will need surgery on their legs. The incident happened in an area used by the Israeli army for military training.
On Monday, January 16, Israeli forces detained 12 people in the Qalqiliya-area village of Azzun. Four people who were later released said they were badly beaten by the soldiers. Further, two men were detained by Israeli forces on January 20, in a village east of Nablus. They were taken to Huwwara detention center near the village for “security questioning” according to an Israeli army spokeswoman. Also on January 20, a settlement security guard detained and handcuffed five shepherds as they attended to their animals in an area near the settlement of Maskiyot outside Jericho.
Finally, Israeli forces detained the director and several employees of Wadi Hilweh information center in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan on January 20. The reason for their arrest is unknown. The director, Jawad Siam, is a local community leader who has been regularly detained and questioned by Israeli forces in the past.