Israel arrests two Hamas officials at Red Cross office

Israeli police detained on Monday two senior Hamas members who had been sheltering for more than 18 months in the compound of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in East Jerusalem.

Mohammed Totah, a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council, and Khaled Abu Arafah, a former cabinet minister, had taken refuge at the ICRC after Israel cancelled their Jerusalem residency permits, a step towards expulsion from the city.

“They were hiding in the building for a year and a half after their ID cards had been revoked, on suspicions of being active in terrorist activity,” an Israeli police spokesman said.

Israel, along with the United States and the European Union, considers the Islamist Hamas movement a terrorist group. Hamas condemned the arrests as kidnapping by “the Zionist enemy”.

Israel captured East Jerusalem in 1967 and regards all of Jerusalem as its capital, a claim that is not recognised internationally. Palestinians want East Jerusalem as the capital of the state they seek to establish in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Ahmad Attoun, a Hamas legislator who had taken shelter at the ICRC for more than a year before his arrest by Israeli authorities in September, said police “broke into the tent where the brothers had been holding a sit-in” and arrested them.

Attoun was expelled from Jerusalem to the West Bank city of Ramallah in December after his residency permit was revoked.

Palestinian officials said at least 26 Palestinian lawmakers were in Israeli detention. Last week, the speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council, Aziz Dweik, another Hamas activist, was detained on suspicion of what the Israeli military termed “involvement with terrorist groups”.

At the ICRC compound, a crowd of Palestinians smashed its gate to protest against what they saw as the failure of the organisation to protect Totah and Abu Arafah. Hamas said the two men were legislators and should enjoy immunity from arrest.

“Everything happened very fast and we do not have more details,” said Red Cross spokeswoman Nadia Dibsy.

The ICRC has said it told Israeli authorities that international humanitarian law prohibited the forcible transfer of Palestinian residents from their homes, for whatever reason.

The organisation also said it had informed Hamas members in its compound that ICRC premises had no special status and it could not prevent police entering to arrest them.

Additional reporting by Labib Nasir and Ari Rabinovicth, writing by Sami Aboudi