Israeli forces arrested three prominent Hamas leaders in the occupied West Bank city of Hebron on Friday morning, Palestinian news sources reported.
The arrests come as Palestinian political factions are preparing for Palestinian Authority (PA) legislative elections on 22 May, in which the Hamas movement is expected to win a majority of seats in parliament amid splits inside the rival Fatah movement and PA leadership.
Hatem Qafisha, 58, a Hamas leader and former member of Palestine’s Legislative Council (PLC), was arrested in his home in Hebron, according to official PA news agency Wafa.
Israeli forces also arrested 55-year-old Issa al-Jabari - the former minister of local government in the short-lived Hamas-formed government after the 2006 elections - and Mazen al-Natsheh, 49, another prominent leader of Hamas in Hebron.
Earlier this week, Israeli forces released two Hamas members after detaining them for interrogation from the Jalazoun refugee camp north of Ramallah, and detained formerly imprisoned Hamas members Bajes Nakhleh; Maher Dalaysheh; Abdul Aziz Muhieddin; Awab Mubarak; and Iyad Safi.
In early March, news outlets reported that Israel’s internal intelligence agency, the Shin Bet, had contacted Palestinian members and supporters of the Hamas movement in the West Bank and warned them against running in the upcoming legislative elections, reportedly threatening them with detention.
Some received warnings during the night, when soldiers delivered the message to their doorsteps, while others were asked to report to Shin Bet stations for interrogation.
PA President Mahmoud Abbas announced in January that a legislative election would be held in May, followed by a presidential poll in July.
It will be the first Palestinian elections since 2006, when Hamas won a majority of seats in the Palestinian parliament, triggering a wave of Israeli arrests of its members, conflict with Fatah, and led to a split in governance between the Fatah-led PA in the West Bank and the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip.
According to Palestinian prisoners' rights group Addameer, 4,400 Palestinians were being detained by Israel as of March, including 11 former members of the PLC.