The men were rounded up from their homes on Saturday night, ostensibly in connection with their intention to contest the forthcoming legislative and municipal Palestinian elections.

An East Jerusalem lawyer, Tawhid Shaaban, who visited the 10 Palestinians at the Etzion detention camp, north of Hebron, said on Monday, "The [Israeli] soldiers kept them for over 16 hours under heavy rain and in harsh cold weather" at the Adoraiem military camp, outside Dura.

At least two of the detainees Hussein Amr, 51, and Fathi Amr, 53, reportedly fell ill as the result of the ordeal. Fathi Amr, a diabetic, already suffers from cardiac problems.

Shaaban said the two had been transferred to the notorious Ofer internment centre. It was not clear if the two had received medical attention.

Hamas targeted

Palestinian Authority officials accused Israel on Monday of carrying out "sweeping" and "unjustified arrests" in the West Bank for the purpose of forestalling further election gains by the chief Palestinian Islamic movement, Hamas.

Hamas said Israel is seeking to
trigger a new wave of violence

The bulk of the Dura detainees are associated with Hamas' religious, cultural and charitable activities, but are in no way connected with resistance against the Israeli occupation army.

Hassan Yusuf, Hamas spokesman in the West Bank, said Israel is "seeking to trigger a new wave of violence and bloodshed for the purpose of thwarting the Palestinian election".

"Now the world should see for itself who is stoking the fire of violence. Rounding up innocent people from their homes and dumping them in concentration camps - this is the ultimate incitement for violence," he said.

Clear violation

The Israeli army's Arabic language spokesman Eitan Arusi said the 10 Palestinians in question "constituted a security threat to the state of Israel".

"The army may
arrest people, but has
no right to brutalise
them and treat them with indignity"

B'tselem spokesperson

But when it was pointed out that the detainees were respected community leaders who had committed no security violation, he said the Israeli army was only carrying out instructions from the Shin Bet, the country's main domestic intelligence agency.

A spokeswoman for the Israeli human-rights organisation B'tselem said the mistreatment of detainees, such as keeping them in cold weather conditions for hours, was a violation of the law, including army orders.

"The army may arrest people, but has no right to brutalise them and treat them with indignity," the spokeswoman told Aljazeera.net.