The Israeli government will attempt to secure the release of two Palestinian residents of Israel who were arrested in the West Bank city of Ramallah by the Palestinian Authority, the Knesset’s Interior and Environment Committee was told on Tuesday.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has instructed the National Security Council to coordinate policy in the wake of the arrest of the two: Issam Akel, a Palestinian resident of East Jerusalem who also holds American citizenship, and another Palestinian identified as Nasser-a-Din.
The National Security Council is looking into ways to increase the pressure on the PA.
The Palestinian Authority arrested Akel in October. He has been held in Palestinian detention ever since on suspicion of involvement in the sale of a home in Jerusalem’s Old City to a right-wing Jewish organization. Nasser-a-Din, also a East Jeusalem resident, has been held in detention for eight months under suspicion of his involvement in a murder.
The National Security Council’s involvement in the issue was disclosed at the Knesset committee session by the head of council’s internal policy division, Amit Aviram. Aviram said that the Council has been dealing with this over the past week "on a regular basis" and have held a discussion on the topic that included representatives from all security bodies. Another discussion is expected Thursday.
Aviram, however, declined to say what action Israel would take over what he called the PA's refusal to release the pair. "We are dealing with the PA, which is currently holding the two detainees and won't release them," he said.
The two cases come against the backdrop of the competing claims that Israel and the PA have over the Old City and the rest of East Jerusalem, which Israel annexed after the 1967 Six-Day War and which the PA claims as the capital of a future Palestinian state. The issue of land sales to Jews in East Jerusalem is therefore particularly sensitive to both sides.
Following Akel’s detention by the PA, Israeli police arrested several Palestinian suspects for involvement in the Palestinian-American’s detention, including the PA's Jerusalem governor, Adnan Ghaith, as well as Jihad Al-Faqeeh, chief of intelligence for the PA in the Jerusalem area.
Both were released from detention last week.
“On an ongoing and constant basis, we are looking at the pressure leverage that we can apply. To the extent necessary, taking all of the interests into account, we will step up the pressure,” Aviram said. Although attention is currently focused on the release of the two residents of Israel, Aviram did not rule out the prospect that conclusions would be drawn that could lead to the formation of a more general policy in similar circumstances.
At the committee session, Kulanu Knesset member Akram Hasoon took Israeli authorities to task for their conduct in Akel’s case, saying that so far it has only been representatives of the U.S. government who have been in touch with the PA on the matter and have visited Akel in detention. Hassoon said he personally contacted the PA's prosecutor general, who told the Knesset member that no Israeli had asked to meet Akel and Israel had not made a request for his release. As a result, Hassoon said, he himself asked for his release.
Asked about Akel’s well-being, Aviram, the National Security Council staffer, said: “As far as I know, he is in relatively proper condition. In discussions that I have had, I haven’t heard about any torture that he is undergoing” and that he had had one of more visits. Nonetheless, Aviram noted that someone arrested by the PA apparently would “not basically be facing a good situation.”
An Israeli resident suspected of cooperating with Israel and was tortured, according to his claims, in a Palestinian detention facility. "I received the death penalty for stopping terror attacks," he said. "The children I saved are grown up now, half are lawyers and half are doctors. I did the work of god."
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