The Media Line Staff
Gaza, Palestinian Territory
The Palestinian Authority has been barring Hamas affiliated imams and members of parliament from delivering sermons during the month of Ramadan and have also threatened mosque leaders from associating with them, Hamas MPs have claimed.
The claims came as Hamas and Fatah say they have reached an agreement on a prisoner release and pledged to move forward with reconciliation, signed in Cairo three month ago. Nevertheless, Hamas legislators told The Media Line that the PA's Ministry of Endowments was keeping them off the pulpit for political reasons.
"The Palestinian Authority is fighting Islam," Shiekh Hamed Al-Betwai, a Hamas parliament member from Nablus, told The Media Line.
A mosque preacher since 1968, Al-Betawi said that the PA has banned him from preaching since last year and has now warned mosque imams in Nablus not to associate with him.
Al-Betawi believed the clampdown was part of wider PA campaign to destroy Islam and "open the gates of corruption" in the West Bank. He noted that 1,000 mosques throughout the West Bank have been left without functionaries, while the PA did appoint thousands of intelligence agents "to spy on the mosques and write reports about what's being said."
He said that the Ministry of Endowments has gone so far as to prepare a unified sermon that avoids mentioning the upheavals taking place in the Arab world and distributed them to mosque preachers throughout the West Bank.
"The sermon is in one world and the people are in another," Al-Betawi said.
Husni Al-Burini, a Hamas parliamentarian from the town of Asira A-Shamaliya near Nablus, has also served as a mosque preacher for the past thirty years. He told The Media Line that three days ago he was ordered to stop delivering his short sermons during the nightly Ramadan prayers in his town's five mosques. The imams (mosque leaders) were summoned by Nablus' Endowments representative and ordered not to allow Al-Burini to speak publicly.
"I stood up and told the people at the mosque that I apologize but I must stop preaching following instructions by the Ministry of Endowments," he said. "The people were very upset."
Al-Betawi, the Nablus MP, blamed the international community for politically pressuring PA President Mahmoud Abbas to take a tougher line against Palestinian Islamists.
"This is a reaction to an Israeli, European and American demand, which views Islam as a religion of terror," he said.
However, Al-Burini said the PA didn't like his sermons against corruption and loose morals.
Al-Burini complained that moral corruption and sexual promiscuity are spreading throughout Palestinian society in the West Bank, a phenomenon which Islamist preachers are trying to curb.
"They want to isolate us from society because they fear we will influence people," he said, adding that the PA will not succeed in doing so because the Hamas MPs enjoy high levels of popularity amongst the common people.
"The people will not give up on us Islamists because we are credible," he said. "They confide in us, and we solve their marital problems."
The Hamas Islamic Resistance Movement, which won popular elections in 2006, took over the Gaza Strip in a bloody coup in June 2007, while Abbas' Fatah faction continued to rule the West Bank. This week, Hamas and Fatah representatives met in Cairo to renew their resolve to end their dispute.
No Palestinian Authority official was available to comment on Hamas' latest allegations. Bahaaeldin Sadi, a Human Rights Officer working for the UN's High Commissioner for Human Rights told The Media Line that he has received complaints from Hamas prisoners' families, but not from preachers barred from the pulpit.
On August 4 Israel released 200 Palestinian prisoners detained for security reasons. Hamas parliamentarian Hasan Youssef was among the released prisoners; freed after serving six years in jail. In an interview given to the Hamas-affiliated Palestinian Information Center upon his release, Youssef criticized the Palestinian Authority for continuing to arrest Hamas members in the West Bank, despite the reconciliation agreement.
"The Palestinian people is tired of promises and wants to feel the reconciliation implemented on the ground," he told the news agency Wednesday. "[The arrests] are shameful … and should stop immediately."
The Palestinian Information Center reported on Wednesday that 100 Hamas members in the West Bank have refused to comply with a summons for investigation issued by the PA security forces since the signing of the reconciliation agreement. They have even opened a Facebook page entitled "West Bank Youth demand to halt the summons," garnering over 2,500 fans.
Families of Hamas prisoners continue to demonstrate regularly outside the PA's Nablus prison, demanding their release. One female protester, wearing a full face veil (niqab) and standing beneath a green Hamas flag, held a sign reading: "those who commit political arrests are outside the national camp."
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