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Diplomatic crisis: Palestinian ambassador accuses Israel of assassinating a Palestinian man in Bulgaria

By Tajuddin
In DIPLOMAT MEMO
Feb 26th, 2016
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TWITTER
Policemen stand outside the compound of the Palestinian embassy in Sofia, Bulgaria February 26, 2016.  REUTERS/Stoyan Nenov

Policemen stand outside the compound of the Palestinian embassy in Sofia, Bulgaria February 26, 2016. REUTERS/Stoyan Nenov

Sofia, Bulgaria ( AP + DIPLOMAT.SO) – Bulgarian authorities are investigating the unexplained death on Friday of a Palestinian man wanted by Israel for a 1986 killing. His death at the Palestinian Authority’s embassy in Sofia was described by the ambassador as murder.

The embassy identified the dead man as Omar Nayef Zayed, who took refuge in the embassy late last year fearing extradition to Israel.

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 has 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.

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.”

“Omar is one of the Palestinian fighters who led the struggle against the occupation and fulfilled his duty to his land and his people,” al-Madbuh said.

Israeli Foreign Ministry Spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon declined to comment, saying, “this is not an Israeli issue.”

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.

Zayed, 52, escaped from Israeli custody 25 years ago and has lived in Sofia since 1994. He was convicted of the murder of an Israeli man in Jerusalem’s Old City and given a life sentence.

The official Palestinian news agency WAFA said Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has ordered an investigation committee to go to Bulgaria immediately and probe the circumstances of the death.

The Palestinian militant group PFLP said Zayed was a member of their organization, who together with his brother and another Palestinian had stabbed an Israeli to death in 1986 and had received life sentence.

In 1990, Zayed was hospitalized in Bethlehem following a hunger strike, and later escaped from the hospital, moving to several Arab countries before settling in Bulgaria.

Israel asked the Bulgarian justice minister in 2015 to extradite him and Bulgarian authorities called on him to surrender. He refused and sought refuge in the Palestinian Authority’s embassy in Sofia.

His brother, Ahmed Zayed, and the other Palestinian were part of a lopsided prisoner swap in 2011 where over 1,000 Palestinian prisoners, many involved in deadly attacks on civilians and security forces, were exchanged for an Israeli soldier, Gilad Schalit, who had been held by Hamas-allied militants in Gaza for five years.

Ambassador al-Madbuh said his embassy had demanded security guarantees several times, but Bulgaria’s foreign ministry had not acted.

Bulgaria withdrew security guards from the embassy seven years ago on the grounds that there had been no attacks on the embassy for 20 years, the ambassador said.

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