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An East Jerusalem man suspected of keeping a young Haifa woman in an apartment in that city for a month, during which time he is alleged to have raped her repeatedly, was arrested yesterday, shortly after the woman, 20, was rescued by police. The suspect, 26, acknowledged during questioning that he had hit the woman on several occasions but denied that he had kidnapped, imprisoned or raped her. Police say that he has been living in Haifa, while he worked doing apartment renovations, for the past nine months.

Intelligence received by detectives led police to the apartment at 34 Herzl St. where the woman was allegedly held. "The detectives verified that she was indeed imprisoned and broke into the apartment," Haifa Police Superintendent Gadi Hatab said. "They found a girl with bruises and evidence of physical assault. A later examination revealed evidence of sexual assault as well." Hatab said police suspect that the woman was beaten, raped dozens of times and prevented from leaving the apartment.

Hatab said the two met through the woman's boyfriend, who was recently sent to prison. Police think the suspect sought her out on the pretext of offering her support her, after which he abducted her. "Later he forced her to call her family several times during the ordeal and say she was fine, which was why they weren't searching for her," Hatab said.

Witnesses to the rescue said the victim's mother passed out when she saw her daughter being led out by officers. "She started crying and said she paid a lot of money to get to her daughter," one witness, Abed, said. Veba, who owns a florist's shop next door to the apartment, related that two women, apparently the victim's mother and sister, arrived before the police officers and began looking for the apartment where she was being held.

Hatab said that after the victim was questioned by police, detectives contacted the suspect, pretending to be interested in hiring him for renovations. "The guy came to see the job and submit a bid, and was arrested by detectives," Hatab said.

A few hours after the arrest, two friends of the suspect appeared completely surprised at the arrest and crimes attributed to him. The men, East Jerusalem residents who also work in Haifa, said they know the woman, who had been living with their friend for some months, and that she did not appear to be held against her will. "I visited him every couple of days, and I never noticed anything odd about the relations between them. They'd sit on the balcony and go out together occasionally," one of the friends said. The other friend said that he was the one who brought the suspect to Haifa to live and found him work. He said that the suspect did hit his girlfriend occasionally, but claimed that they lived together as a couple. "A little while ago they fought, he hit her and she ran away," the friend related. "She stayed with me for two days and told me he hit her. I tried to help them reconcile, they made up and she went back to live with him." The friend said the suspect had beaten the woman on Sunday night.

Hatab said the suspect will be arraigned tomorrow, when police will ask that he be held in custody.