Hamas frees senior Fatah official in Gaza after seven weeks

( dpa ) - Hamas released a senior official of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' rival Fatah party Friday after holding him for seven weeks.

Hamas gunmen had snatched Omar al-Ghoul, a senior adviser to acting Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, from his house in Gaza in the night to December 14, shortly after he returned to the Strip from the West Bank.

Al-Ghoul told reporters after his release that he planned to leave the Hamas-ruled Strip and return to Ramallah Saturday. He said there had been no reason for his arrest.

Al-Ghoul is Fayayd's media adviser, but has also written critical editorials on Hamas' Gaza take-over in the Ramallah-based, pro-Fatah and Palestinian Authority-owned al-Hayyat al-Jadida newspaper.

The radical Islamic movement seized sole control of the Strip in June, by overpowering headquarters throughout the Strip of security forces loyal to Abbas and Fatah.

Since then, both rival groups have launched arrest campaigns against each other, with Abbas' security forces detaining Hamas activists in the West Bank and Hamas snatching Fatah members in Gaza.

Al-Ghoul was among the most senior Fatah officials to have been taken by Hamas.

His release was brokered by small opposition factions, including the Islamic Jihad and Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), with some reports saying it was part of efforts to mediate a larger prisoner amnesty between rivalling Fatah and Hamas.

Nasser Eddin Shaer, a senior Hamas official in Nablus, told reporters he hoped al-Ghouls release would be the beginning of the end of the taking of "political prisoners" by both sides.

Shaer served as deputy premier in the first Hamas government of Ismail Haniya, formed after the Islamist movement beat the secular Fatah in January 2006 parliamentary elections.

Since that election, both groups have been engaged in a bitter power struggle.

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