Israel Holding Egyptian Convict in Security Prison - One Year After His Sentence Expired

Ahmad Suwarka was arrested in March 2009 and charged with colluding with Hamas on planning an attack or capturing a soldier. Now Israel and Egypt are blaming each other for bureaucratic snafus preventing his release to Egypt

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File photo: Nafha Prison
File photo: Nafha PrisonCredit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz

An Egyptian citizen is still in Israel’s Nafha Prison a year after his sentence expired, because of bureaucratic issues between Israel and Egypt.

Ahmad Suwarka, 27, a resident of the Sinai, had been arrested in March 2009. After questioning by the Shin Bet security service, he was charged with colluding with Hamas on plans for either to conduct a suicide mission in Israel or to capture an Israeli soldier and take him from Gaza to the Sinai. Suwarka sneaked into Israel and was supposed to locate a suitable spot for the suicide plot, and then to help lead the suicide bomber to the spot. If that were to fail, Suwarka was supposed to assist with the other plot, to kidnap a soldier.

He was arrested with five other Sinai residents, and was convicted in 2011 of charges that included conspiracy to commit kidnapping and murder, infiltrating into Israel, contacting a foreign agent, giving information to the enemy, based on his confession. He was sentenced to seven-and-a-half years in jail.

But even after Suwarka finished his sentence in September 2016, Israel wouldn’t release him. Suwarka remains in Nafha Prison because of the Infiltration Law, which enables Israel to keep him behind bars until Egypt can provide a laissez-passer.

Although the law says infiltrators kept in prison should be held separately from criminal convicts, Suwarka is being kept in security prison together with other Palestinian prisoners.

Suwarka, who says he is married to a Gazan woman, has asked to be expelled to Gaza or Egypt, anything to get him out of the Israeli prison, where, he says in a plea to the Be’er Sheva court, the conditions are unbearable.

“I plead to your hearts and consciences, to do justice,” Suwarka wrote. “I completed my sentence and should not have to pay an additional price because of bureaucracy. I feel that nobody cares about me and that I am in a third-world country.”

Interior Ministry officials say that the real obstacle to his release is the Egyptian embassy, which hasn’t issued the laissez-passer. Lacking legal status, he can’t be released, the ministry explains. However, other infiltrators released from prison are kept at the Saharonim facility in the Negev, which has better living conditions than other prisons.

However, a source familiar with the case asserts that the one holding up a laissez-passer is Israel.

The immigration and population registry authority commented that Suwarka had been in prison for reasons irrespective of immigration, and once his sentence was over, it turned out that the process of issuing the laissez-passer would take time, and he has to be flown back to his country of origin. But it is likely to happen soon. It added that it wasn’t the one deciding in which prison Suwarka would be held.

The Prison Service commented that he had committed serious defense-related offenses and is affiliated with Hamas. He had the right to request a change in his definition and the Prison Service would consider it, in compliance with the directives of defense elements.

The Egyptian embassy did not comment before press time.