The Israeli army is cracking down on civil servants and community leaders, including elected local government officials, throughout the West Bank, in what some believe to be a bid to force Hamas out of upcoming Palestinian elections.
Palestinian sources told Aljazeera.net that Israeli soldiers arrested on Monday dozens of Islamist political activists, including a number of municipal council officials.
One of the arrested is Hakim Shalalda, the mayor of Sair, 10km northeast of Hebron. Shalalda won the town's mayoral elections nearly three months ago.
Last week, the Israeli army arrested the seven elected members of the municipal council of the village of Shuqba in the northern West Bank.
Israeli soldiers continue to carry out nightly raids targeting the homes of potential Islamist candidates for the third and last phase of the municipal elections in the West Bank, set to take place before the end of the year.
Hamas sources estimate the number of Islamic political leaders and activists arrested during the past 10 days is 450, including academics, teachers, civil servants, students and business people.
According to East Jerusalem lawyer Tawhid Shaban, who defends many of the detainees before Israeli military courts, up to 80% of the detainees have already been sent to the Negev desert detention camp, Kitziot.
Danny Rubinstein suggests that Israel's actions only strengthen extremists:
After all, everyone knows that Abu Mazen and his colleagues in the Fatah leadership are afraid of Hamas success in the elections for the Palestinian Legislative Council (the parliament), which are to be held in late January. Against this background, people have begun to talk in the West Bank street about how the arrests are part of a scheme hatched by Abu Mazen and Ariel Sharon, with the aim of striking at Hamas and weakening it in the period leading up to the election. Such talk harms the chairman and his partners in the government.
Another outcome of the arrests that is possibly even more significant is that the Hamas movement could move increasingly toward clandestine underground activity. This is at odds with the Palestinian Authority's plan for dealing with it. Abu Mazen is trying to encourage Hamas to end terrorist activities and become a political party. He has had limited success, such as the cease-fire agreement in which Hamas was a partner, and its willingness to take part in elections to the city councils and to parliament. In the opinion of the Palestinian leadership, this is an important stage on the path of Hamas toward acceptance of the Oslo Accords and joining in the diplomatic process, which would mean recognition of the State of Israel.
Mass arrests such as those of last weekend, and the targeted assassinations, of course, make Hamas move backward, and strengthen its extremist wing. Since it is a movement that has won the admiration and respect of the masses, Israel's struggle against it must not take on a solely military character. An exclusively military campaign would not help. On the contrary, it would weaken Fatah and Abu Mazen and would fortify his opponents.