RAMALLAH, Palestinian Territories (AFP) – The Western-backed Palestinian Authority has sentenced a Hamas fighter to 20 years in prison over a deadly 2009 shootout with Palestinian police, a court official said Tuesday.
The sentence infuriated Hamas and cast a shadow over plans to hold a second round of reconciliation talks in Syria with its Fatah rivals later this month.
Alaa Hisham Diab was sentenced by a military court on Sunday after having been arrested following a May 2009 battle in the West Bank town of Qalqilya that left three Palestinian security forces and two Hamas fighters dead.
Ahmad Mubaid, the head of the military court, said the conviction was a “criminal matter and not a political one,” and that Diab received a military trial “because the crime was against the military establishment.”
A senior Hamas official in the West Bank said the ruling could harm reconciliation efforts.
“It’s a very sad state of affairs when Palestinians hand down these harsh sentences on their own in military courts,” Omar Abdelrazaq told AFP.
“On the one hand there is the lack of legality of the courts that issue these verdicts, and on the other these verdicts come while there is talk of coming closer to reaching internal reconciliation.”
“I think there are some Palestinians who do not want this reconciliation to come about,” he said, without elaborating.
The armed wing of Hamas meanwhile accused the Palestinian Authority of “national treason,” saying it had “made itself the security guard of the Zionist enemy by acting like the (Israeli) occupation.”
“The Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades have the right to respond to these sorts of decisions,” Abu Obeida, the spokesman for the secretive armed group, said in an article posted on a Hamas-run website.
The gunfight in question had broken out when Palestinian security forces went to arrest a top Hamas commander in the West Bank who was also wanted by Israel. The commander was killed in the shootout.
Since Hamas seized power in Gaza in 2007 both it and the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority have arrested scores of political rivals in the territories under their control, according to rights groups.
The Hamas-run government in Gaza has been singled out for executing convicted murderers and spies for Israel after trying them in its own secretive military courts.
Both sides have denied detaining or sentencing anyone for political reasons.
A senior Hamas official in Gaza had earlier said that representatives from the two movements would hold a second meeting in Damascus to discuss “forming a joint security committee” as part of a process of reconciliation.
Egypt struggled for months to broker an agreement between the two factions but those efforts collapsed in October 2009 when Hamas refused to sign an agreement endorsed by Cairo and Fatah.