Aziz Duwaik, Palestinian Leader Who Secretly Met with UC Irvine Students, Held by Israel

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Speaker of the Palestinian parliament Aziz Duwaik, whose secret meeting with UC Irvine students and faculty visiting Israel in 2009 raised cackles in some corners, was ordered to be held without trial for six months, his lawyer said today. The senior Hamas official, whose name is alternately spelled Aziz Dweik on some news sites, was arrested by Israel Defense Forces soldiers at a checkpoint near the West Bank city of Ramallah last week over his alleged dealings with terrorist groups.

"The (administrative detention) order was issued today but as is almost always the case, it gave no specific reasons why Duwaik should be held. It said only that he was being detained because he was liable to be involved in hostile actions against Israel," his lawyer, Fadi Kawasmi, reportedly told Reuters.

Duwaik has been the speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council since his election in January 2006, is recognized by one group of Palestinians as their president since the term of Mahmoud Abbas officially expired in January 2009, and has long championed reconciliation of divided Palestinian factions, a goal that has put him in close contact with Hamas, which has been tied to terrorism and opposition to a two-state solution.

Israel previously arrested Duwaik in 2006 for his Hamas ties and held him in jail for two years. But he has claimed he is not connected with the militant side of Hamas, only the political side, and has called the idea some Hamas members hold of a completely Palestinian state without Israel "a fantasy."

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The Irvine students and faculty members met with Duwaik while attending a trip arranged by the the Olive Tree Initiative, which aims to promote dialogue and discussion regarding the Israeli-Arab conflict by sending students to the Middle East. The campus program is partly funded by the Jewish Federation of Orange County, whose leaders mentioned the Duwaik meeting in this Oct. 8, 2009, letter to UCI Chancellor Michael Drake shortly after the students returned home.

The disclosure of the secret meeting caused the San Francisco-based Institute for Jewish & Community Research to brand the entire trip "a serious misuse of funds and gross violation of public trust." It also set off the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA), which called for an end to the Olive Tree Initiative.

"The students were reportedly given two reasons to keep the meeting a secret," began a statement ZOA issued last April. "First, 'to avoid being detained upon reentering Israel from the West Bank or being held at the airport before leaving the country'; and second, to avoid being confronted 'with anyone who would have disagreed with this meeting had they known about it in advance--namely, Orange County Jewish community and leadership, and UCI administration.'"

Khaled Abu-Arafa and Muhammad Totah, Hamas politicians who had been hiding in an east Jerusalem Red Cross building for a year and a half, were also arrested Monday. Abul Jabbar Fuqaha, another Hamas member of the Palestinian parliament, earlier today became the fourth such arrestee in five days, the Palestinian news agency Ma'an reported.

Hamas' political arm responded with a mobile phone statement condemning an "arrogant Zionist policy against Hamas figures."

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