//Israel frees senior Hamas cleric and lawmaker

Israel frees senior Hamas cleric and lawmaker

NABLUS, West Bank (Reuters) – Israel has freed a senior Hamas figure from jail days before he is due to be sworn in as a member of the new Palestinian parliament.

Ahmed el-Haj Ali, 66, a leading Hamas cleric from the West Bank town of Nablus, said he was released on Wednesday after five months in jail under a so-called administrative detention order.

The army made no comment on the release of Ali. Israel has ruled out contacts with Hamas unless it renounces violence and drops its charter call for the Jewish state’s destruction. "Israel found no further justification to keep me in jail", Ali told Reuters. The new Palestinian parliament will be sworn in on Saturday.

Hamas took 74 of the parliament’s 132 seats in a surprise January 25 election victory, trouncing President Mahmoud Abbas’s long dominant Fatah. Ali won more votes than any other candidate in Nablus. Israel has held thousands of Palestinians without trial during an uprising and says such detentions help to prevent attacks. Others have been convicted for helping to carry out attacks.

With Ali’s release, 11 of Hamas’s new parliament members remain behind bars. There are three from Fatah, including uprising leader Marwan Barghouthi, serving five life terms. Hamas has masterminded nearly 60 suicide bombings against Israelis since a Palestinian uprising began in 2000, but has largely adhered to a truce declared last year.

(Reporting by Atef Sa’ad. Additional reporting by Wafa Amr in Ramallah and Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza)