A previously unknown group today said it had kidnapped three Hamas officials in the West Bank, accusing the Islamic group of putting itself above the law.
Palestinian security officials confirmed the kidnappings of Bassem Abeido in Hebron, Hassan Safi in Bethlehem and Riad Abdel Karim al-Raz in Tulkarem. The three men, all local leaders of the Islamic militant group, were abducted by gunmen from their homes last night, though Karim was released early today.
A group calling itself the al-Farouk Omar bin al-Khatab Brigades claimed responsibility for the abductions.
“This is a response to Hamas’ violations and disregard for law and order and their attacks on security institutions and Palestinian leaders. We warn Hamas and ask them to stop their policy and learn their lessons. This is our first response,” the group said in a leaflet.
Hamas is in a power struggle with the ruling Fatah movement ahead of January parliamentary elections.
Since Israel’s pullout from the Gaza Strip was completed last month, Hamas has become increasingly brazen in challenging Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas. Early this week, three people were killed in Gaza in the worst fighting between Hamas and Palestinian police in nearly a decade.
Little is known about the al-Khatab Brigades, named after one of the first followers of the Prophet Mohammed.
Karim, the Hamas leader in Tulkarem, said after his release Friday that he had no idea who kidnapped him or what they wanted.
“People came and took me by force. They didn’t treat me well, and then they apologised and told he I would be taken home,” he said. Karim, head of the engineering department at A-Najah University in Nablus, suffered a black eye and had his shirt torn by his captors.
The Al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, a violent group affiliated with Fatah, denied involvement in the incident.
Early Friday, the Israeli army arrested another A-Najah professor who is running in the parliamentary elections. Professor Nasser Shaer, a former member of Hamas, is running as an independent candidate.
Israel has rounded up hundreds of suspected Islamic militants in recent weeks, including dozens of Hamas political candidates.