Deceased Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat’s former money man Muhammad Rashid visited Israel on June 12 and held meetings with Israeli officials as well as figures connected to Syrian rebel groups, the official newspaper of the Palestinian Authority, Al-Hayat al-Jadida, reported.
According to the report, Rashid traveled on a Canadian passport, arrived with a delegation of senior officials from Iraqi Kurdistan, and stayed at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem. During the visit, Rashid, who is a fugitive from the PA, where he has been convicted of embezzlement, was said to have met with Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein and an IDF intelligence officer.
From Jerusalem, Rashid reportedly went on to Haifa and met with senior Israeli officials at a restaurant, where the delegation was hosted by Deputy Minister for Regional Cooperation Ayoub Kara, a confidant of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Kara told The Times of Israel that “it is no secret that I am connected to the Kurds, the Yazidis, and the Syrian Druze,” but refused to discuss specific details of the Palestinian media report.
“There is a war today between terror entities in Iran and the relatively free world, backed by Saudi Arabia,” Kara said. “We are obliged to develop connections with the relatively free world in order to overcome the extremist religious trend. I don’t intend to comment on the visit of one person or another. But almost every day I have meetings with different people with the aim of preventing terrorism. And that includes [putting myself in] personal danger and entering dangerous places. I hope that these activities will bear fruit.”
According to Al-Hayat al-Jadida, last Wednesday Rashid, who was accompanied by “a senior intelligence office in the Israeli army,” met with a former senior commander in the al-Qaeda-linked Syrian rebel group Al-Nusra Front, named in the report as “Mustafa Ali Albabadi,” who it said is hospitalized in Israel.
Israel routinely takes in and treats Syrians injured in the civil war, and the IDF has set up a field hospital along the border, though it transports more serious cases to hospitals elsewhere in the country. It says it does this without prejudice to which side of the civil war the injured was fighting on.
The report framed the meeting as proof that Albabadi had left the ranks of Al-Nusra.
After the meeting with Albabadi, Rashid and his entourage were said to continue to the border on the Golan Heights, where they met “in the area of Quneitra” with “a Syrian rebel faction that has an open relationship with the Israel security forces.” The IDF intelligence officer was present at that meeting too, the report claimed.
In June 2012 the Palestinian anti-corruption court convicted Rashid of siphoning off millions of dollars in public funds, sentencing him to 15 years in prison.
The court, concluding its highest-profile probe, found Rashid guilty of embezzlement and money laundering. In addition to the prison sentence, he was fined $15 million and his properties were ordered confiscated.
He and two associates were convicted of taking a total of $33.5 million from the foreign donor-financed Palestinian Investment Fund.
Rashid, who in the past has denied wrongdoing, was sentenced in absentia by the court in the West Bank city of Ramallah. He left the Palestinian territories after Arafat’s death in November 2004 and has rarely been seen since. He is said to hold business interests in four Middle Eastern countries and Montenegro.
Times of Israel staff and AP contributed to this report.