Israeli police on Monday arrested a Hamas MP who had taken refuge inside the east Jerusalem headquarters of the Red Cross for more than a year, police and another Hamas lawmaker told AFP.
Ahmad Atun was arrested on Monday morning in an operation by undercover police officers, who pounced on him at the entrance to the Red Cross offices in Sheikh Jarrah, a district in the city's annexed eastern half.
The move was immediately denounced by Gaza's Hamas rulers as well as by the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority, which said it was part of an Israeli plan to evict Palestinians from east Jerusalem which they one day hope to have as capital of their future state.
Police spokesman Mickey Rosenfeld said Atun was arrested by plainclothes officers "on suspicion of involvement in Hamas activity in Jerusalem," after he had been "hiding in a Red Cross building" for more than a year.
Atun is one of three senior Hamas officials who took refuge inside the Red Cross building in June last year in order to avoid arrest for entering annexed east Jerusalem without a residency permit.
All three are Jerusalem residents who had their residency permits stripped in 2006 by Israel's interior ministry because of their political activities with Hamas.
"We confirm the arrest of PLC member Ahmed Atun. We are still looking into the circumstances of his arrest," ICRC spokeswoman Cecilia Goin told AFP, referring to the Palestinian Legislative Council or parliament.
Khaled Abu Arafeh, former Palestinian minister for Jerusalem affairs and one of the two Hamas officials still living inside the building, said Atun had been snatched in a carefully coordinated operation by police disguised as workers.
"He was standing at the gates of the Red Cross and police dressed like Palestinian workers kidnapped him," he said, explaining that undercover police had staged two "traffic disputes" to deflect attention from their operation.
"It was a set-up."
Nisrin Atun, the MP's wife, told AFP one of the Israelis involved in the operation who was driving the car in front of her was dressed like a Palestinian woman wearing a headscarf.
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"She got into a fight and I was stuck behind her. Then there was another fight involving a car in front of the Red Cross. I didn't suspect anything until I saw the woman with the group of people who were leading my husband away handcuffed," she told AFP.
Atun, Abu Arafeh and another Hamas MP, Mohammed Totah, had lived inside the compound for 453 days.
Many Palestinians fear the MPs' expulsion could set a precedent for the removal of more of the nearly 270,000 Palestinians living in east Jerusalem, which Israel occupied in 1967.
In a statement from its Geneva headquarters, the ICRC urged Israel to comply with its obligations under the fourth Geneva Convention which bars the forcible transfer of populations from an occupied territory.
"The International Committee of the Red Cross calls upon the Israeli authorities to comply with their obligations under international humanitarian law.
"Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949 prohibits Israel, regardless of its motive, from forcibly transferring Palestinians," it said, recalling that "east Jerusalem is an occupied territory, and its Palestinian residents are protected persons."
In Gaza, the Hamas authorities reacted angrily to Atun's arrest, describing it as an attempt "to empty the city" of its Arab and Islamic presence, it said.
A similar denunciation came from the West Bank city of Ramallah.
"This kidnap is part of the occupation's ongoing policy of emptying the Holy City of all its residents and replacing them with Jewish settlers," said presidential spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeina.
Last December, Israel expelled another Hamas MP for Jerusalem for entering the city after his residence permit was withdrawn.
On September 6, Mohammed Abu Teir was rearrested as he again tried to enter Jerusalem and was sentenced to six months of administrative detention, officials said.
Palestinians living in east Jerusalem need Israeli-issued residence permits which allow them to travel freely in Israel and the West Bank, to collect government benefits and to vote in Israeli local elections.
Israel regards the whole of Jerusalem as its "eternal, indivisible" capital, while the Palestinians lay claim to its eastern sector as the capital of their promised state.