GAZA, (Reuters) – The Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas urged President Mahmoud Abbas on Friday to suspend exploratory peace talks with Israel following Israel’s arrest of two Hamas legislators.
Israeli soldiers arrested senior Hamas official Aziz Dweik, speaker of the Palestinian parliament, on suspicion of involvement with terrorist groups, and detained another lawmaker of the group from Bethlehem, Khaled Tafish.
Hamas said Dweik was taken into custody at a checkpoint near the city of Ramallah. It accused Israel of trying to undermine moves by Abbas and Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal to end four years of bitter rivalry and unite the two main Palestinian factions.
Hamas deputy speaker Ahmed Bahar said Israel’s detention of Dweik was intended to prevent reconciliation and elections later this year.
“What happened requires Mr Mahmoud Abbas to declare an immediate stop to the negotiations in Amman in respect of our people and in respect of the parliament and its head,” Bahar told reporters in Gaza.
“It should be a firm message to the occupation (Israel) that their continued crimes will not be give cover by the Palestinian Authority and will not pass without a response,” Bahar said.
There was no immediate comment from Abbas’s office.
The senior negotiator of Abbas’s Palestinian Authority has been holding meetings with Israel’s top negotiator in the Jordanian capital to seek a resumption of direct peace talks that have been suspended for the past 15 months.
Hamas seized control of the Gaza Strip from forces loyal to Abbas during a brief civil war in 2007. The Palestinian legislative council has been effectively mothballed ever since.
Hamas and Fatah agreed on a reconciliation deal last year, but it has yet to be implemented.
Israel, the United States and the European Union consider Hamas a terrorist group opposed to peace and committed to violence.