- The Washington Times
Thursday, August 16, 2007

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) Hamas forces arrested the top Palestinian law enforcement figure today after the ally of the rival Fatah movement returned to the Gaza Strip to try to reassert his authority.

Witnesses said the Islamist group’s gunmen beat Attorney General Ahmed Mughami and his bodyguard and forced them out of Mughami’s office in Gaza City. A human rights activist filming the incident also was arrested, witnesses said.

Mughami an ally of Hamas’ nemesis, President Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah was released a short while later, but refused to resign his post, his office said.

Hamas said in a statement that Mughami had “smuggled very important and dangerous information” to an undisclosed location and had violated the law. It was not clear why Mughami was released, but he belongs to a large clan in Gaza that wields great influence.

Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, another Abbas ally, called the arrest “another act in which Hamas in Gaza continues to engage in behavior that is irresponsible.”

Mughami was appointed to the Gaza-based post a year ago by Abbas. He was not in Gaza when Hamas wrested control of the area in June. Abbas has since expelled Hamas from the unity government and installed a Western-backed Cabinet in the West Bank.

The Gaza court system has been idle since Hamas took control of the territory.

Abbas’ government has warned employees in Mughami’s office not to work or they will be seen as collaborators. Judges have stalled all court activity, refusing to work without the backing of the attorney general’s office.

With Mughami’s office not operating, Hamas threatened to fire him and his staff and had advertised openings at the office to replace them. Mughami returned to Gaza two days ago, at Abbas’ request, to try to instill order in the judiciary, his office said.

Mughami is the second high-ranked Fatah official to be arrested since Hamas took over Gaza. Last month, Hamas forces arrested the director-general of the Gaza electricity company, who has been held ever since.

This week the force also arrested the manager of a bank that had frozen the accounts of Hamas security men reportedly at Abbas’ request.

Also Thursday, Fayyad denied that the Palestinian government and Israel are holding backchannel peace talks, but said the two sides had begun discussing core issues that have held up an accord.

Israel’s Yediot Ahronot newspaper reported earlier in the day that secret talks between Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Abbas were under way.

The two have met several times, but Israel has repeatedly said publicly that it is not prepared yet to discuss the most contentious issues dividing the two sides final borders, the status of disputed Jerusalem and the fate of Palestinian refugees and their descendants.

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