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Israel to free Hamas parliament speaker

world Updated: Jun 23, 2009 14:51 IST

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The detained Hamas speaker of the Palestinian parliament is to be released on Tuesday, after serving three years in an Israeli prison, according to officials.

"The Israeli prisons authority has informed us that Aziz Dweik will be released today," the Palestinian minister for prisoners affairs, Issa Qaraqae, told AFP.

Dweik's lawyer Fadi Qawasmeh said Israeli authorities would drive his client to a military roadblock in the northern West Bank. Israeli authorities did not immediately comment.

An Israeli military court at the Ofer army base near Ramallah in the occupied West Bank on June 17 rejected an application by prosecutors to keep Dweik behind bars after his three-year sentence runs out.

Dweik was elected speaker in February 2006, a month after Hamas swept Palestinian parliamentary elections in a surprise rout of the long dominant Fatah party of president Mahmud Abbas.

He was arrested by Israeli security forces at his Ramallah home in August 2006 amid a West Bank crackdown on Hamas in which more than 60 elected officials were detained, including a third of the then government and more than two dozen MPs.

Some were later released, but at least 35 remain in custody.

The crackdown came after Hamas and other Gaza militants seized Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit in a deadly cross-border raid. He will have been in captivity for exactly three years on Thursday.

In December 2008, an Israeli military court sentenced Dweik to three years in prison - including time already served - for membership of Hamas, which Israel, the European Union and the United States blacklist as a terror group.