The leaders were rounded up from their homes in Dura, south of Jerusalem, on Saturday night and have been in detention ever since.

Israel's occupation army says the men were detained because they posed a threat to the Jewish state. However, Palestinians believe the real reason is their intention to run in the upcoming Palestinian polls.

According to an east Jerusalem lawyer who visited the detainees at the Etzion detention camp, north of Hebron, on Monday morning, the 10 had been kept in freezing conditions at the Adoraiem military camp, outside Dura.

"The soldiers kept them for over 16 hours under heavy rain and in harsh, cold weather," said the lawyer, Tawhid Shaaban.

At least two of the community leaders Husain Amr, 51, and Fathi Amr, 53, reportedly fell ill during detention. Amr, a diabetic, also suffers from heart problems.

Shaaban said the two were transferred to the Ofer internment centre. It was not clear if the two were given medical care.

Provocative move

Palestinian Authority officials have accused Israel of carrying out sweeping and unjustified arrests in the West Bank for the purpose of forestalling further election gains by the resistance group Hamas.

"The soldiers kept them for over 16 hours under heavy rain and in harsh cold weather"

Tawhid Shaaban,
lawyer

The bulk of the Dura detainees are associated with Hamas' religious, cultural and charitable activities, but are not proven to be connected with resistance against the Israeli occupation army.

Hasan Yusuf, Hamas spokesman in the West Bank, accused Israel of "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," he said. "Rounding up innocent people from their homes and dumping them in concentration camps like this is the ultimate incitement of violence."

'Threats to Israel'

Israeli army spokesman Eitan Arusi said the detainees constituted a security threat to the state of Israel.

The community leaders deny
links with the armed resistance

Arusi said the army was only carrying out instructions from the Shin Beth, Israel's chief domestic intelligence agency.

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

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