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Palestinian-Israeli politician denies smuggling mobile phones to prisoners Open in fullscreen

The New Arab

Palestinian-Israeli politician denies smuggling mobile phones to prisoners

In September, Israeli police arrested more than 20 Balad officials and activists [Getty]

Date of publication: 20 December, 2016

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MK Basel Ghattas has said accusations he smuggled mobile phones to Palestinian prisoners were part of a systematic campaign of "political persecution".

A Palestinian-Israeli Member of the Knesset has said accusations he smuggled mobile phones to Palestinian prisoners were part of a systematic campaign of "political persecution".

MK Basel Ghattas, a member of the Balad faction in Israel's parliament - a Palestinian nationalist party that frequently clashes with the Israeli government - denied the charges again on Tuesday as he was summoned for questioning by police, news site Arab48 reported.

"All is well and spirits are high. We are used to these kinds of investigations and attempts to criminalise, which are designed to de-legitimise our work," Ghattas said before he entered a four-hour interrogation session.

On Sunday, the MK released an online statement labelling the accusations against him "false" and part of a political persecution campaign.

"The campaign has targeted the Arab leaders, the Balad party and political work in general. The police and Israeli state are trying to sap the strength of the Arabs in this country, make Balad yield to them and strike its political activity," Ghattas said.

He said that visiting prisoners and checking on their well-being was "the legal right and duty of all Palestinians".

"These trips have been coordinated with Arab MKs and prison officials with the authorisation of the minister of homeland security," he added. "I have nothing to hide."

Israel's prison services said they received a tip that Ghattas would smuggle the phones on Sunday to Palestinian prisoners convicted of killing Israelis.

Following the visit, prison officials recovered 12 mobile phones in the jail.

Israel's internal security minister, Gilad Erdan, said if his suspicions were proven, Ghattas himself "belongs in jail".

Earlier this year, MKs Ghattas, Haneen Zoabi and Jamal Zahalka were temporarily suspended from Knesset debates after they met with the families of Palestinian assailants whose bodies were being held by the Israeli authorities.

Israeli police also arrested more than 20 Balad officials and activists as part of an investigation into its financing in September.

At the time the party denounced the move as an attempt to silence Israel's Palestinian minority, which accounts for a fifth of the country's eight million population, and is largely supportive of the Palestinian cause.

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