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Hamas Lawmakers to Remain Jailed Until Court Case Concludes

A military court decided against releasing 21 Hamas legislators from jail, keeping them in prison on charges of membership in a terrorist organization until the end of the legal proceedings.
By Hana Levi Julian
First Publish: 9/26/2006, 2:54 PM / Last Update: 9/25/2006, 8:11 PM

The decision reverses a recent ruling by Military Judge Maj. Ronen Atzmon which would have freed the members of Hamas. Hamas currently heads the Palestinian Authority (PA).

Atzmon questioned the timing of the arrests of the prisoners, who include three PA Cabinet ministers as well as 18 members of the PA parliament. He charged Israel with having failed to raise objections to their election to the PA government nine months ago.

Monday’s reversal was a difficult decision, said presiding Judge Col. Sha'ul Gordon. “It is not every day that democratically-elected ministers and lawmakers are brought before a court," he said, "and even though Hamas has declared as its goal the destruction of Israel, it does not make the decision any easier.”

The stark contrast between the legislative status of the prisoners and their terror group membership, however, prompted the judge to point out that people who clearly state they want to destroy Israel cannot be set free on bail. “This duality cannot exist…. the defendants need to decide where they are heading.”

He added that despite the status of the prisoners, “We shall not allow high ranking officials of a terror organization to hide behind their ranks, whatever they may be.”

Knesset Member Taleb A-Sana (United Arab List) warned that the ruling would negatively affect negotiations for the release of IDF Corp. Gilad Shalit, who was kidnapped by Hamas-affiliated terrorists on June 25th. A-Sana is the lead attorney for the Hamas prisoners.

The PA lawmakers were rounded up during an anti-terror sweep in Judea and Samaria following Shalit's abduction. Deputy IDF Prosecutor Maj. Maurice Hirsch responded by saying, “The State of Israel has the right to defend itself against terrorism.”

Shalit’s whereabouts and condition are still unknown, despite efforts by officials from numerous countries and organization to negotiate with the kidnappers who abducted him.