Israel arrests senior Palestinian Aziz Dweik

Aziz Dweik in West Bank city of Hebron. Oct 2011 Aziz Dweik is a member of Hamas but is based in the West Bank

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A senior Palestinian politician and member of the militant group Hamas has been arrested by the Israeli army in the West Bank.

Aziz Dweik, speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC), was arrested at an army checkpoint, his chief of staff told AFP news agency.

The arrest happened in Jaba between Ramallah and Jerusalem as Dr Dweik was travelling by car to Hebron, Bhaa Youssef said.

Israel has confirmed the arrest.

Israeli border troops said he was detained for "involvement in terrorist activities".

Witnesses told the Palestinian Maan news agency that Israeli soldiers handcuffed and blindfolded Dr Dweik before taking him to an unknown destination.

Dr Dweik is a member of the Islamist Hamas movement, which governs the Palestinian territory of Gaza. However, he is based in the West Bank.

The Palestinian parliament has not met since Hamas seized control of Gaza in 2007 from the rival Palestinian Fatah Party.

Since then Fatah - backed by the West - governs the West Bank.

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The BBC's Wyre Davies in Jerusalem says Aziz Dweik has remained an influential figure in Palestinian political circles.

Many will see his arrest as a provocative act and further proof than Israel is pursuing a policy of restricting the movements of senior Palestinian figures, he adds.

The arrest comes amid rising tensions between Israel and Gaza. On Wednesday Israeli aircraft attacked targets in Gaza and troops struck targets near the border fence between Gaza and Israel.

Last May, Dr Dweik was held at an Israeli military checkpoint in the West Bank along with three other Hamas MPs.

One of the group, Nizar Ramadan, was detained but the others were allowed to proceed.

Analysts say about 20 of Hamas's 74 MPs in the 132-member PLC are currently being held by Israel.

The majority, who include two former ministers, have been arrested in the West Bank since October 2010.

Last month Israel freed 550 Palestinian prisoners in the second and final phase of a deal that saw the release of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit in October.

Sgt Shalit, 25, was seized in 2006 by Hamas militants who tunnelled into Israel.

Hamas is listed as a terrorist organisation by Israel, the US and EU, due to its refusal to renounce violence and recognise Israel. Under the group's charter, Hamas is committed to the destruction of Israel.

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