By Mohammed Assadi
RAMALLAH, West Bank (Reuters) - Israel on Tuesday freed the Hamas speaker of the Palestinian parliament, who was jailed for nearly three years as part of a dragnet that dented the Islamist group's political activities in the West Bank.
Aziz Dweik's release came after Israeli prosecutors failed to persuade a military court last week to extend his prison term, which was set to end in August. Dweik had been convicted for belonging to what Israel deems a terrorist group.
"The Palestinians should work on releasing all lawmakers in Israeli jails in order to revive parliamentary life," Dweik told reporters outside the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC).
"I call for the release of all (political) prisoners in Gaza and the West Bank."
Israel detained Dweik, 60, and dozens of other Hamas politicians in the occupied West Bank in 2006 shortly after gunmen from the faction and other militants abducted Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit on the Gaza Strip border.
Hamas and Israel on Tuesday denied a Palestinian news agency report that Shalit's release was also imminent.
Dweik's reception at the PLC highlighted the continuing enmity between Hamas and the U.S.-backed Fatah faction of President Mahmoud Abbas, which favors a peace deal with Israel.
The Islamists, shunned by the West for refusing to coexist with the Jewish state, seized control of Gaza in 2007, driving Fatah forces out and prompting Abbas to dissolve the Hamas-led coalition government that was sworn in after a surprise Hamas victory in a 2006 election.
Talks to reconcile the two have yielded no results since Egypt began mediation late last year.
On Tuesday, there was no sign of them burying the hatchet. Fatah employees locked the door of the building shortly before the freed speaker arrived, to be greeted by members of various parliamentary factions.
A Fatah official said they had not been notified of any event so the workers had ended their shift and gone home. He said Hamas misled Fatah Minister of Prisoners Affairs Issa Qaraqe, sending him to the wrong place to greet Dweik.
Abbas's forces, keen to prove their law-and-order mettle to international peace mediators, have recently cracked down on Hamas in the West Bank. Fatah activists in Gaza have been the target of Hamas round-ups.
Hamas said 34 of its lawmakers were still in Israeli custody. It says scores of supporters are held in West Bank jails.
Dweik has been touted by Hamas as a possible replacement for Abbas. During his imprisonment, he was taken several times to a hospital in Israel, suffering from blood pressure and diabetes. It was unclear if his poor health contributed to his release.
(Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Mark Trevelyan)
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