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Palestinian-Israeli MP to be indicted over 'phone smuggling'

Ghattas has routinely defended his innocence [AFP]

Date of publication: 6 January, 2017

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Israeli authorities have approved an indictment against a Palestinian-Israeli member of Knesset accused of smuggling mobile phones to Palestinian prisoners, the Justice Ministry said Thursday.

Israel's attorney general has given his approval for an indictment against a Palestinian-Israeli member of Knesset accused of smuggling mobile phones to Palestinian prisoners, the Justice Ministry said Thursday.

Basel Ghattas, a member of the Balad Party, was detained last month and has been under house arrest since 27 December.

He is to be charged with the use of property for “terrorist purposes” and breach of public trust, among other accusations, the ministry said in a statement.

Israeli media have reported that 12 mobile phones were found on two separate prisoners in searches after the 60-year-old parliament member visited.

One of the prisoners is serving time for the kidnapping and killing an Israeli soldier in 1984, news site Ynet reported.

Ghattas is accused of using his parliamentary immunity to avoid being searched in order to smuggle in the phones.

The lawmaker has routinely defended his innocence, describing his arrest as political persecution. As a member of the Palestinian-Israeli party, Balad, Ghattas has frequently fought with the Israeli government.

"We are used to these kinds of investigations and attempts to criminalise, which are designed to de-legitimise our work," Ghattas said last month.

The Balad Party has been targeted numerous times this year by Israeli authorities, who repeatedly tried to ban it under various claims, including supporting "terrorism".

Its three MKs caused outrage among Jewish Israelis earlier this year when they met relatives of Palestinians who authorities say were killed while carrying out attacks.

More than 20 Balad officials were also arrested in September, after accusations of fraud, money laundering, and illegal use of party funds that their supporters say are fabricated.

Ghattas' arrest is seen by many among Israel's Palestinian opposition groups as the most recent case in a continued campaign aimed at suppressing their political voice.

The accusations against the MK have been ridiculed by Israeli left-wing commentators as a deliberately exagerrated episode of ultranationalist incitement by ruling right-wing politicians.

Amira Hass recently even questioned whether cell phones actually posed a threat to security in Israeli prisons in a Haaretz comment piece, accusing the authorities of overreacting.

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