Lawyer says top PA officials held by Israel suspected of kidnapping US citizen

Victim, who also has Israeli ID card, believed to have angered Palestinians by helping sell Arab home in Jerusalem’s Old City to Jewish buyers

Illustrative: Israeli border police officers stand guard in Jerusalem's old city, Friday, Aug. 17, 2018.  (AP Photo/Mahmoud Illean)
Illustrative: Israeli border police officers stand guard in Jerusalem's old city, Friday, Aug. 17, 2018. (AP Photo/Mahmoud Illean)

Two top Palestinian officials arrested by Israeli forces over the weekend were held on suspicion helping abduct a Palestinian resident of Jerusalem, who was also a US citizen, their lawyers said on Sunday.

Israeli forces arrested Palestinian Authority Jerusalem Governor Adnan Ghaith and Jihad Faqih, the Jerusalem director of the PA General Intelligence Services, on Saturday, but declined to say why.

However, the two are suspected of having assisted in abducting a resident of Jerusalem two weeks ago, who has since been held by the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, their lawyers told the Reuters news agency. Both men deny the charges.

Hadashot news reported that the man who had been abducted was wanted by the Palestinians for selling an Arab property in Jerusalem’s Old City to Jewish investors.

The Palestinians frequently hand out the death penalty to those convicted of selling land to Israelis, though PA President Mahmoud Abbas has not authorized the implementation of such executions since his election in 2004.

Palestinian Authority Jerusalem Governor Adnan Ghaith. (Screenshot: Youtube)

Instead, he has imposed a sentence of hard labor for life on “anyone diverting, renting or selling land to an enemy state or one of its subjects.”

The report said the abducted man was a Jerusalem Arab with an Israeli identity card and was also a US citizen.

Asked about the report, a  US embassy spokesperson told Reuters that they were aware of the incident.

“We are aware of reports that a US citizen has been detained by the Palestinian Authority. When a US citizen is incarcerated or detained overseas, the Department of State works to provide all appropriate consular assistance,” the official said.

A large group of Israeli security forces nabbed Ghaith on his way out of a family member’s wedding in Jerusalem’s Beit Hanina neighborhood, his brother Hani Ghaith said.

A spokesperson for the Shin Bet security service referred questions to the Israel Police.

Mickey Rosenfeld, a spokesman for the Israel Police, said, “Two people were arrested and there is an ongoing investigation taking place.” Rosenfeld declined to confirm if Ghaith was one of the two people he said were arrested or provide any other details.

A picture taken from the Mount of Olives shows the Old City of Jerusalem with the Dome of the Rock shrine in the center, on December 6, 2017. (AFP Photo/Ahmad Gharabli)

In late August, Abbas appointed Ghaith, a resident of Jerusalem’s Silwan neighborhood and a longtime Fatah activist, to the largely ceremonial role of PA Jerusalem governor. In his new role, Ghaith is responsible for overseeing the PA’s operations in the neighborhoods within its jurisdiction on the outskirts of Jerusalem.

Israel seldom arrests high-ranking PA officials. However, Israeli security forces have arrested Ghaith many times in the past several years including on suspicion of incitement, his brother Hani said.

Eyewitnesses said security forces arrested Faqih near Al-Judeira, a village in the central West Bank, and brought him to a detention center in Jerusalem, according to the Wafa report.

Adnan al-Husseini, a Palestine Liberation Organization Executive Committee member and a former PA Jerusalem governor, condemned the arrests of Ghaith and Faqih, contending that they “target the Palestinian presence in Jerusalem,” Wafa reported.

Husseini called on the international community to intervene to secure the two PA officials’ release.

Yousif Mahmoud, a spokesman for the PA government, described the arrests as “a new crime at the expense of our people, its leadership and its eternal capital,” Wafa reported.

The Ramallah-based Palestinian leadership has long said it supports the establishment of a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital.

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