GAZA (Reuters) – Israeli security forces took into custody a member of the new Hamas-led Palestinian cabinet on Thursday at a roadblock on the outskirts of Jerusalem, Hamas sources said.
The Israeli army and interim Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s office had no immediate comment.
Israel Radio said Khaled Abu Arafa, an independent who serves as minister of state for Jerusalem affairs, was detained because as a resident of Arab East Jerusalem, he is banned by Israel from entering areas in the West Bank administered by the Palestinian Authority.
Abu Arafa was stopped at an impromptu roadblock that Israeli soldiers positioned in the occupied territory, north of Jerusalem, Hamas sources said.
“They stopped the car and asked the minister to get out and when he refused they forced him by pointing the rifle in his face,” one of the sources said, citing accounts from witnesses who telephoned Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh.
Abu Arafa was en route to the office of former Palestinian minister Ziad Abu Ziad for a handover ceremony and was taken by soldiers to an unknown location, the sources said.
Hamas, sworn to Israel’s destruction, held its first cabinet meeting on Wednesday following its victory in the January 25 Palestinian election.
Israel says it cannot consider dealing with Hamas until the Islamic group recognises the Jewish state, renounces violence and accepts prior interim Israeli-Palestinian peace accords.
Palestinian cabinet spokesman Ghazi Hamad said Israel was undermining the work of the new government.
“The arrest of a cabinet minister proves the falseness of Israel’s arguments that it seeks peace,” Hamad said.
Israel’s Haaretz web site said the Shin Bet security service had detained Abu Arafa and a bodyguard.
Haaretz quoted security sources as saying Abu Arafa was taken into custody because as a holder of an Israeli identity card, which East Jerusalem residents are allowed to carry, he cannot enter areas designated by interim peace deals as under Palestinian Authority control.
Israel captured East Jerusalem in the 1967 Middle East war and annexed it in a move that was not recognised internationally. Palestinians want East Jerusalem as the capital of the state they hope to establish in the West Bank and Gaza.