Hamas releases 35 Fatah men from Gaza Strip jail

GAZA (Reuters) – Hamas security forces released 35 members of the rival Fatah movement from prison on Sunday as a goodwill gesture to mark a Muslim holiday and bolster Egyptian reconciliation efforts, a Hamas official said.

Mohammed al-Qidwa, who was governor of the Gaza Strip before Hamas seized the territory from Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah faction in fighting in June 2007, was among those freed. He had been in detention for three months.

“Political arrests in all Palestinian Authority areas must end,” Qidwa told Reuters after he left prison.

Hamas describes Fatah men in its custody as common criminals and largely denies it carries out politically motivated arrests.

Ehab el-Ghsain, spokesman of the Hamas-run Interior Ministry in the Gaza Strip, said the 35 prisoners were released to mark the holiday of Eid el-Fitr, celebrating the end of the Ramadan fasting month, and to reinforce Egypt’s mediation.

Fatah has said Hamas has arrested several hundred of its men in the Gaza Strip since the takeover and at least 150 are still in jail.

Hamas said about 300 of its members have been detained by Fatah in the West Bank over the past year and about half remain in custody.

Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman has been holding separate reconciliation talks with Palestinian factions over the past month and met a Fatah delegation earlier in the week. He is due to meet Hamas representatives around October 8.

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