The family of a fugitive Palestinian terrorist who was found dying Friday in the grounds of Palestinian embassy in Bulgaria said Sunday that Israel and the Palestinian Authority were jointly responsible for his death.
Omar Nayef Zayed, 51, was found in the yard of the mission in Sofia on Friday morning and died later in hospital. Bulgarian radio said that he had fallen from the fourth floor of the building.
“The Palestinian Authority embassy in Sofia did not look after him, they asked him to leave the embassy. They threatened and pressured him. They told him that Israel had the keys to the embassy,” Zayed’s family said in remarks to Al-Jazeera television translated into Hebrew by Channel 10.
Some Palestinian groups have also claimed Israel killed him, an accusation that Jerusalem denied.
Zayed was convicted in 1986 for the murder of yeshiva student Eliyahu Amedi — whom he stabbed to death in the Old City — along with two other Palestinian assailants. He was sentenced to life in prison. Four years after beginning his sentence, Zayed began a hunger strike and was moved to a Bethlehem hospital facility, from which he escaped. He fled to Bulgaria in 1994 and married a local woman with whom he had three children. Israel had recently been seeking his extradition.
Amedi’s sister called Zayed’s death the “closing of a circle” and “a happy day for me.” In an interview to Israel’s Channel 2 on Friday, Yafah Pinhasi said she was pleased “there is one less murderer walking around free.” She said dryly that “it wasn’t the hand of God that threw him down” from a high floor of the embassy building, but did not speculate on who might have killed him.
A senior Palestinian Authority official said Zayed “was discovered with serious torso injuries and died before emergency services arrived,” official Palestinian news agency Wafa reported. PA officials said they were investigating the circumstances of his death.
Bulgarian Prosecutor General Sotir Tsatsarov said the body was found outside the embassy by a Palestinian embassy staffer as he parked his car. Zayed was still alive when an ambulance arrived, and there were no gunshot wounds. He died at the scene before paramedics were able to take him to a hospital. Tsatsarov suggested a possible cause of death was that he had fallen from the embassy building.
Zayed, a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), had been living in Bulgaria for the past 20 years. Even though the body bore no bullet wounds, the PFLP claimed he had been shot in the head.
Palestinian Ambassador Ahmed al-Madbuh told reporters Friday that the death was murder and said it was “a result of the continuing persecution by Israel.” He added: “Omar is one of the Palestinian fighters who led the struggle against the occupation and fulfilled his duty to his land and his people.”
The spokesman for the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem, Emmanuel Nahshon, said, “This is not an Israeli issue.” Officials at the ministry were quoted denying any involvement, and saying Israel had first learned of Zayed’s death from the media.
Israel Radio quoted “a security source” as saying that “Israel has no interest in striking at an elderly terrorist, especially if it involves danger or committing resources.”
The death came hours after Bulgarian Prime Minister Boiko Borisov returned from a visit to Israel and the Palestinian Authority where he discussed the extradition of Zayed with his Israeli counterpart and senior Palestinian officials.
In December of 2015, Israel submitted a request to Bulgarian authorities to extradite Zayed. Late last year Bulgarian authorities agreed to examine the Israeli request but a December 14 hearing was postponed because Zayed was not at his address, the Bulgarian interior ministry said.
He had fled to the Palestinian Embassy to seek sanctuary there, and had been staying there ever since.