RAMALLAH, West Bank – Israeli border police briefly detained a Hamas Cabinet minister Thursday, the first time a member of the new Palestinian government was taken into custody since the Islamic militant group took power last week.
Khaled Abu Arafa, minister of Jerusalem affairs, was detained along with his bodyguard on his way to Izzariya, a West Bank suburb of Jerusalem, where he was to sign off on furniture and office equipment from his predecessor, Ziad Abu Zayyad, a moderate.
The army said Abu Arafa was taken into custody because he is barred from entering the West Bank for security reasons, but he was not interrogated because his intentions were clear.
Paramilitary police stopped the car at a checkpoint at the entrance to Izzariya and forced him out of the vehicle after he refused to leave voluntarily, Abu Arafa told The Associated Press.
Abu Arafa said he was taken to a shipping container where he sat for several hours before being moved to a police station in the West Bank settlement of Maale Adumim. He was released in the early afternoon.
"Nobody asked me even one question. The entire time they treated me roughly," Abu Arafa said, adding that his hands were cuffed and he was forced to sit on a box when riding in the military vehicle.
"This is an attempt by the Israeli government to topple the new Palestinian government and prevent us from providing services for our people," Abu Arafa said. "They insist on creating a tense situation ... and getting us back to square one. We will continue our work and our duties to our people."
The Israeli government refuses to have any ties with the new Hamas-led government unless it recognizes Israel, accepts past Israeli-Palestinian peace deals and renounces violence.
Hamas, sworn to Israel's destruction, has refused to accept the demands, which are backed by the international community.
It had appeared that Israel was trying to prevent Abu Arafa from assuming his duties in the ministry office in Izzariya.
Part of Izzariya is in Jerusalem, which is at the center of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Israel claims the entire city as its capital, while the Palestinians want the eastern half for the capital of a future state.
Abu Arafa, a Jerusalem resident born in 1961, has been detained several times by Israel in the past.
Abu Zayyad, the former minister of Jerusalem affairs, said members of Abu Arafa's entourage informed him of the detention. He said the two were to meet so Abu Zayyad could hand-over the supplies that belong to the Palestinian Authority.
The Jerusalem affairs office has been in the West Bank for several years because interim Israeli-Palestinian peace accords bar the Palestinian Authority from opening offices in the disputed city, Abu Zayyad said.
The Hamas Cabinet was sworn into office a week ago after the militant Islamic group won January parliamentary elections. Western donors have threatened to withhold aid from the Palestinians, largely because of Hamas' refusal to recognize Israel and renounce violence.