JERUSALEM Israeli police arrested a Palestinian Hamas lawmaker in his Jerusalem neighbourhood on Wednesday, saying he was there illegally after Israel revoked his residency permit over his hardline Islamist affiliation.
The arrest of Muhammad Abu-Teir, who was scheduled to appear before an Israeli court on Thursday, looked likely to sharpen international criticism of the Jewish state's plan to deport him along with three other Hamas politicians from East Jerusalem.
Israel captured that area along with the West Bank and Gaza in the 1967 war, and now calls all of the city its indivisible capital -- a status not recognised abroad and which has hobbled U.S.-led efforts to revive peace talks with the Palestinians.
Ahmad Attoun, another Hamas lawmaker facing expulsion, said he was driving Abu-Teir in Sur Baher neighbourhood, where the latter lives, when they were pulled over by police asking to see their Israeli-issued identity cards.
"We told them we do not have IDs. They arrested Muhammad Abu-Teir and told me I have two days remaining to stay in Jerusalem," Attoun told Reuters.
An Israeli police spokesman said Abu-Teir was arrested "for not abiding by the court order requiring he leave Jerusalem within the court-appointed period".
Abu-Teir was among dozens of Hamas politicians from Jerusalem and the West Bank that Israel rounded up in 2006 after the Islamist group, which rejects Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's peacemaking strategies, swept a legislative election.
Israel freed Abu-Teir in May, then announced it was revoking his identity papers -- documentation that formalises residency for some 250,000 Palestinians in East Jerusalem and grants them benefits akin to citizenship, except for the right to vote.
The plan to deport Abu-Teir, Attoun, fellow Hamas lawmaker lawmaker Muhammad Totah and former Hamas cabinet minister Khaled Abu Arafeh has been condemned by Abbas -- though his secular Fatah faction is locked in a bitter schism with the Islamists.
Richard Falk, the U.N. special rapporteur on human rights in the Palestinian territories, cited the four Hamas men's case in a statement on Tuesday that saw "a larger, extremely worrying pattern of Israeli efforts to to drive Palestinians out of East Jerusalem -- all of which are illegal under international law".
Falk noted that Israel's High Court of Justice was slated to review the deportations on Sept. 6, which could signal reprieve.
Abu-Teir's arrest came as U.S. envoy George Mitchell held talks in Israel as part of indirect peace negotiations with the Palestinians that were launched in May.
Hamas is formally sworn to the destruction of Israel, with which it fought a war over Gaza in January 2009. But it has also offered to enter a long-term truce as part of a broader accord.
(Additional reporting by Mohammed Assadi in Ramallah; Editing by Elizabeth Fullerton)