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Palestinian Authority cracks down on mosques to promote moderate Islam

The crackdown up close

Worshipers at the Great Mosque in Doura, near the city of Hebron, saw the crackdown up close one Friday in August. Witnesses said hundreds of Palestinian police forces prevented Sheikh Nayef Rajoub, the mosque's imam for 29 years, from delivering a sermon.

Rajoub was among the several dozen Hamas-affiliated politicians who were elected to parliament in 2006 and arrested by Israel a few months later, after Hamas militants captured Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier.

When Rajoub was released from an Israeli jail this summer after 50 months of imprisonment, the authority banned him from preaching.

"What happened to me was part of a general policy of the Palestinian Authority to prevent the representatives of the Palestinian people from speaking directly to their audience," Rajoub said in an interview at his office last month.

He was rearrested by Israel in early December for "being a senior Hamas activist who endangers the security of the area," according to the military, and sentenced to six months of administrative detention.

"This is a mouth-muzzling policy on the part of the Palestinian Authority," Rajoub said in the interview, before his most recent arrest. "This policy is aimed at curbing freedom of expression."

Special correspondent Samuel Sockol contributed to this report from El Bireh, Qalqilyah and Doura in the West Bank.

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