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Israeli arrest of Arab citizen over Lebanon visit angers rights groups

RAMALLAH, West Bank – An Arab Israeli citizen was arrested on charges of visiting an enemy state after the man returned from a trip to Lebanon, the Israeli government announced.

The April 12 detention of Majd Kayyal, 23, described as a freelance journalist and Web editor for a group that advocates for the Arab minority in Israel, angered human rights groups and others who have pushed to liberalize travel rules to neighboring Arab countries that Israel has labeled enemy states.

The announcement, made after a court lifting of a gag order on the case, came as Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza marked Prisoner Day with rallies demanding freedom for the more than 5,000 Palestinians in Israeli prisons. Prisoner support and advocacy groups say several hundred are held in administrative detention without charge or trial.

Kayyal, who is from the northern coastal town of Haifa, was arrested at the Allenby border crossing with Jordan, according to a statement from the rights group Adalah. The group said he was a freelance contributor and editor for its website. He had spend three weeks in Lebanon at the invitation of the Beirut-based As-Safir newspaper, to which he was a regular contributor, Adalah said.

Police charged Kayyal with "visiting an enemy state" and "contact with a foreign agent," according to Adalah, which said its lawyers had been denied access to Kayyal for five days after his arrest.

Israel treats several Arab countries, including Lebanon, as enemy states, and bans its citizens from visiting them without permission.

A Haifa court agreed Thursday to release Kayyal but placed him under house arrest until his trial, according to Adalah, which petitioned the court to reconsider a police request to extend his detention by eight days.

Adalah said in its statement that Israel's prohibition of visits to Arab countries infringes on the right to freedom of movement and expression. Laws barring citizens from visiting Arab countries or having contacts with their citizens "affect all Palestinian citizens in Israel and violate their right under international law as a national minority to maintain their relations with their own people," the group said. 

The Palestinian Authority is trying to free 14 Arab Israelis imprisoned for more than 20 years for anti-Israel activities. The 14 are among 26 prisoners Israel promised to release last month as part of a deal reached in July between Israel and the Palestinians.

"Freedom of the Palestinian prisoners and freedom of the Palestinian people will pave the way to peace," chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said in a statement marking Palestinian Prisoner Day.

Palestine Liberation Organization Executive Committee member Hanan Ashrawi used the occasion to reiterate support for an April 1 decision to join 15 international accords, including the Geneva Convention treaties. Suspension of such gestures toward statehood recognition was part of the deal last year that included a series of prisoner releases by Israel. 

“The Palestinian leadership is currently focusing its efforts on Palestine’s accession to the Four Geneva Conventions of August 12, 1949, and the First Additional Protocol, and ensuring their implementation in regards to occupied Palestine, with the issue of Palestinian political prisoners at the forefront,” Ashrawi said in a statement.

Abukhater is a special correspondent.

Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times
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