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Palestinian Deputy Premier Is Released

September 28, 2006|From the Associated Press

NABLUS, West Bank — Israel on Wednesday released the Palestinian Authority deputy prime minister, the highest-ranking of more than 30 officials in the Hamas-led government jailed as part of a crackdown on the Islamic militant group.

Nasser Shaer, who had been held without charge for more than a month, was ordered freed by an Israeli court and barred from going to his government office in the West Bank city of Ramallah for two weeks.

Shaer said Wednesday that he was not mistreated in jail, but added: "They came and took me from my house in front of my children, wife and family. They had no reason to do it."

Israel and the West consider Hamas a terrorist group and have cut off funding to the Palestinian Authority, plunging the territories into a financial crisis.

Violence flared June 25 when Hamas-linked militants attacked an Israeli army base near the Gaza Strip, killing two soldiers, capturing a third and triggering a large-scale Israeli offensive in the coastal strip.

Israel also rounded up dozens of West Bank officials. Though Israel said they were suspected of involvement in terrorism, it was widely assumed they were meant to be traded for the soldier, Cpl. Gilad Shalit. But no progress has been reported in mediation efforts.

Shaer was arrested Aug. 19. He did not run on the Hamas ticket but joined the government after the Islamic group's victory. He denies that he is a Hamas member.

After Israeli soldiers dropped him off at a checkpoint Wednesday, he hitched a ride home to Nablus, where he was greeted by dozens of supporters.

Thirty lawmakers and four Cabinet ministers remain in Israeli custody, charged with belonging to an illegal group.

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