Israeli police have arrested several Palestinians, including members of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas‘ political party, Fatah, and accused them of carrying out a population census in occupied East Jerusalem.
Muhammad Mahmoud, a lawyer representing some of the detainees, told Al Jazeera that five Fatah members, including Hatem Abdel Qader, a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council for the Jerusalem district, were arrested and had their detention subsequently extended because of their “illegal work with the PA [Palestinian Authority]”.
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An Israeli judge extended the detention of Aseel Hasoneh, Issam Khatib and Musab Abbas to November 27, Mahmoud said. Hatem Abdel Qader and Arafat Musa were given house arrest for five days and ordered to pay a $570 bail.
Abdel Qader was imprisoned by Israeli police for five days in July on grounds of “incitement”.
In a statement released late on Tuesday, Israeli police said it “detained and arrested 17 suspects on suspicion of working with” the PA “following close and secret investigations carried out over the last few weeks, targeting Jerusalemites suspected of violating the Interim Agreement and taking part in activity related to a population census by the PA”.
Khalil Tufakgi, a Palestinian expert on the Oslo Accords, said that, in accordance with the Interim Agreement, PA activity is not allowed in East Jerusalem.
The Interim Agreement between the Israeli government and the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), commonly known as the Oslo II Accord, created, in 1995, Areas A, B and C in the West Bank.
The PA was given some limited powers and responsibilities in Areas A and B and a prospect of negotiations on a final settlement based on UN Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338.
Oslo II followed the Oslo I Accord agreements of 1993, which had envisioned the establishment of a Palestinian interim self-government in the Palestinian territories but fell short of the promise of an independent Palestinian state.
The Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS) is currently conducting a population census and is believed to have included East Jerusalem in the count.
According to some reports, a few individuals were seen in East Jerusalem with a questionnaire related to a population census.
Through a spokesperson, the PCBS denied operating in East Jerusalem, contradicting the Israeli police statement.
Speaking to Al Jazeera, Louay Shehadeh said: “We have been preparing to conduct a population census in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip since June, but we have been operating only in the suburbs like Abu Dis, al-Ram and Ezariya.”
He said the “Israeli detentions targeted Fatah members and had nothing to do with the population census”.
Shehade said the next phase of the census will begin on December 1 and will last until December 24.
Amjad Abu Asab, a Palestinian activist who follows prisoners’ affairs, told Al Jazeera the detentions are a “message [from Israel] to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics not to operate in East Jerusalem and a message to the PA that they are being targeted”.
Adnan Gheith, a Fatah member, says the arrests are part of a campaign to limit the PA’s activities in East Jerusalem.
“So far, we have no information on the reason for their detention, but the Israeli occupation works to curb the presence and activities of the PLO and the PA inside Jerusalem,” he told Al Jazeera.
“The Israeli occupation is working to exert more control on al-Aqsa Mosque.”
Israel occupied East Jerusalem in 1967 and proceeded to annex it, in breach of international law.
The Palestinians claim East Jerusalem as the capital of their hoped-for state, which is home to Jewish, Christian and Muslim holy sites.
Over half a million Jewish settlers live in illegal settlements in the West Bank and occupied East Jerusalem.
Israelis consider East Jerusalem settlements neighbourhoods like others in the city, but the international community does not recognise Israel’s annexation of the area and rejects the settlements there as illegal.