Arrest raises questions about Palestinian police

May 31, 1994|By Doug Struck | Doug Struck,Jerusalem Bureau of The Sun ,,TC

GAZA, Gaza Strip -- Hani Abed has disappeared, last seen in the hands of the Palestinian police.

Mr. Abed, a 31-year-old university teacher, may be the first secret arrest -- and perhaps first political arrest -- by the new Palestinian authority in the Gaza Strip, who took over from Israel two weeks ago.

"If the police do things like this, for sure there will be a revolution," said his angry sister, Atimad Abed.

Mr. Abed is a man with the wrong kind of friends: certainly opponents to the peace process, and maybe -- or maybe not -- murderers from the Muslim group Islamic Jihad.

Because of that, the Palestinian police took him away last Tuesday. They have held him without charges, without explanation and without admitting they have him.

Suddenly everybody wants him. Israelis have demanded that he be turned over to them for questioning about a May 20 attack that killed two soldiers. Islamic Jihad wants him freed. And his family wants to see him, just to find out where he is.

"This is a very dangerous crime, a stupid crime, to kidnap our brother Hani Abed," said a leaflet published Friday by Islamic Jihad, one of the most strident criticisms yet of the new Palestinian police. It warned: "We will not be silent."

Mr. Abed's surreptitious arrest -- he was lured to police headquarters with a false story -- and his confinement without charges may have far-reaching implications.

It is an ominous signal for Palestinians who had hoped they had seen the end of midnight arrests common under the Israeli military occupation. The incoming police had promised to protect civil rights.

It also may signal the methods that will be used by the police, loyal to the Fatah branch of the Palestine Liberation Organization, in dealing with opposition Palestinian groups.

And it may determine how the new authorities will deal with Israeli demands that the police turn over Palestinian suspects in attacks on Israelis. The Palestinians so far have not made clear how they will answer that demand.

Because of those implications, both Israel and the new Palestinian authority are remaining publicly mum about the case.

Israel apparently is interested in Mr. Abed in connection with a drive-by shooting at a checkpoint to the Gaza Strip May 20 in which two Israeli soldiers were killed. The gunmen fled toward Gaza City, and Islamic Jihad later claimed responsibility for the attack.

It is uncertain what, if anything, Mr. Abed knows of the attack.

Mr. Abed is a chemistry teacher at the Science and Technology College in Gaza. Married, with four children, he works a second job in a press office in Gaza known to be affiliated with Islamic Jihad.

According to his family, throughout the Israeli occupation he was never arrested for Islamic Jihad activities. Like most Palestinian groups, Islamic Jihad is divided into an armed "military" wing and a political wing. Mr. Abed's contacts were with the political wing, his family said. "I can swear by my son that he is not involved in violence," said his mother.

Last week, men in plainclothes who said that they were from the Palestinian police visited his home six times. They said that a new Palestinian arrival who was a relative wanted to meet Mr. Abed. When he went to inquire, he was taken into custody.

When his family demanded to know his whereabouts, the chief of the Palestinian Police, Maj. Gen. Nasser Yusef, told them it was a "secret," according to his brothers, Awni Abed, 20, and Amad Abed, 29.

Then they were told that their brother was being kept in confinement for his protection from Israeli collaborators, they said. Finally, three days ago, the family stayed at the entrance to the Gaza Central Prison, causing a commotion and demanding to see Mr. Abed.

The prison was notorious during the Israeli occupation for its confinement of Palestinians and was "liberated" with great celebration by Palestinians when the Israelis withdrew from Gaza May 18.

Mr. Abed's mother, Najiba, said her son was escorted from the prison to see her for just a moment to assure her that he was all right. She has not heard from him since that short Saturday visit, she said.

"If the Israelis arrested him for 20 years, I could accept it," said Amad Abed. "But for the Palestinians to arrest him and put him in that jail is crazy."

"The jail that was used by Israelis to hold Palestinians is now being used by Palestinians to hold Palestinians," complained Sheik Abdulla Ahmad as-Shami, an acknowledged member of Islamic Jihad in Gaza. "This is the first time the Palestinian police are holding someone from the opposition."

The leaflet published Friday by Islamic Jihad -- the usual means of making political statements -- accuses the Palestinian police of working for the Israelis, a charge the new Palestinian authority has taken pains to try to avoid.

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