A member of the Palestinian Authority’s national soccer team is being held by Israel on suspicion of meeting with a Hamas operative in Qatar in April and receiving a phone, funds, and written instructions that were to be passed on to Hamas contacts in the West Bank city of Qalqilya, the Shin Bet security service revealed on Wednesday.
Israeli operatives arrested Samah Maraabeh, 22, on April 28, and have been holding him since, the Shin Bet said Wednesday.
The information corroborates charges made by Culture and Sports Minister Limor Livnat in a letter earlier this week to the main international soccer governing body, after Palestinians protested Israeli restrictions on Palestinian soccer players and officials.
Confirmation of the arrest of Maraabeh comes amid fresh Palestinian demands to suspend Israel from FIFA, soccer’s international governing body, unless it ceases restricting Palestinian players from traveling.
The FIFA Congress has been convening in Sao Paolo this week in advance of the World Cup tournament beginning Thursday.
Palestinian players, frequently prevented from leaving Gaza and attending tournaments, have also been sentenced and detained for acts of terror. Most recently, Omar Abu Rwayyis, the squad’s former goalie, was arrested in April 2012 for shooting at an IDF patrol near Ramallah. Mahmoud Sarsak, that same year, was freed from Israeli prison, where he was incarcerated under administrative detention as an active member of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, after a 97-day hunger strike.
Maraabeh, part of a Palestinian team that, after his arrest, won the AFC Challenge Cup in May, left for Qatar on April 15 with the rest of the national squad. While in the country for a soccer training camp, he met with Talal Abed al-Rahman Sharim, a member of Hamas’s military wing, who had been sentenced to life in prison for his involvement in the 2001 Dolphinarium bombing attack in Tel Aviv, among others, but released in the Gilad Shalit prisoner exchange.
Sharim, the Shin Bet said, “is involved, and up to date, in the preparation of Hamas actions in the field.”
Under interrogation, “it came up” that Moeed Hassan Sharim, a Hamas activist in Qalqilya and the chairman of the Islamic Club soccer team, approached his player, Maraabeh, and asked him to meet with the exiled Hamas leader while in Qatar.
“Maraabeh understood that it was a covert meeting, based on the instructions he received prior to the meeting, and therefore kept the fact of the meeting from his teammates and team managers,” the Shin Bet said.
The mission given to Maraabeh is part of an ongoing push within Hamas to re-establish its terror cells and increase its influence in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, officials said.
Livnat, in a letter to FIFA President Sepp Blatter, wrote that Israel would allow Palestinian athletes to travel freely so long as there are “no attempts to make use of sports in order to injure or threaten the security of our citizens,” according to the AP.
The case of Maraabeh, she wrote, is worrisome and constitutes “clear evidence of the misuse of sports in a fashion that threatens the security of Israeli civilians.”