A fugitive Palestinian terrorist wanted by Israel was found dying in the yard of the Palestinian Embassy in Sofia on Friday morning. Some Palestinian groups claimed Israel killed him, an accusation that Jerusalem firmly denied.
Bulgarian radio reported that Omar Nayef Zayed, 51, had fallen from the fourth floor of the embassy. He died later in the hospital.
A senior Palestinian Authority official said he “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.
The Bulgarian prosecutor’s office said it was told by the embassy Friday morning of a death resulting from violence on the territory of the embassy. The Palestinian ambassador granted access to the investigators, it said, adding that the cause of death had not been established yet.
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.”
Israeli Foreign Ministry Spokesman 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 the Israeli prime minister and senior Palestinian officials.
“I told all sides that our prosecution had received a request for extradition and now a court was to decide whether he will be extradited or not,” Borisov told Parliament Friday.
In 1986 Zayed was convicted in the murder of yeshiva student Eliyahu Amedi — whom he stabbed to death in Jerusalem’s 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 managed to escape. He fled to Bulgaria in 1994 and married a local woman with whom he had three children.
In December of 2015, Israel submitted a request to Bulgarian authorities to extradite him. 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.
According to a report on the Ynet news website, Israel, Bulgaria and Palestinian officials had been holding discussions since that time to facilitate Zayed’s surrender.
The Palestinian Authority’s minister of prisoner affairs, Issa Qaraqe, said Israel was behind Zayed’s death. PA President Mahmoud Abbas announced the formation of a special commission of inquiry to look into his death, Wafa said.
His brother, Ahmed Zayed, was among those released in a 2011 swap for Israeli soldier, Gilad Schalit, who was held hostage by Hamas in Gaza for five years