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Maria, 3, stands in front of a portrait of her father, Dirar Abu Sisi, during a demonstration in Gaza yesterday calling for his release.
Maria, 3, stands in front of a portrait of her father, Dirar Abu Sisi, during a demonstration in Gaza yesterday calling for his release.

Israel admits kidnapping operations manager of Gaza's only power plant

Israeli officials confirmed that Dirar Abu Sisi was being held in Shikma prison, after he was kidnapped on February 18 while travelling on a train to the Ukrainian capital, Kiev. However, the explanation for Mr Abu Sisi's abduction and detention are still covered by a court gagging order.

NAZARETH // Israel admitted this week that it was behind the abduction of the operations manager of Gaza's only power plant, who disappeared more than a month ago while travelling on a train in Ukraine.

Israeli officials confirmed in a statement that Mr Dirar Abu Sisi, 42, was being held in Israel's Shikma prison, near Ashkelon, after a judge partially lifted reporting restrictions late on Sunday. However, the explanation for Mr Abu Sisi's abduction and detention are still covered by the gag order, which has been extended by a judge for 30 days.

The whereabouts of Mr Abu Sisi, an engineer, had been the subject of intense speculation since he disappeared on February 18 travelling on a train to the Ukrainian capital, Kiev.

Suspicions that he might have been kidnapped and taken to Israel were first raised by the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees earlier this month. Mr Abu Sisi's family and the Israeli human rights group Hamoked contacted Maksim Butkevych, the Commissioner's spokesman in Ukraine, who demanded the Ukraine investigate his "violent abduction".

A few days after his disappearance, Mr Abu Sisi's wife, Veronika, a Ukrainian national, in statements to the media, accused the Israeli spy agency Mossad of seizing him to extract information that could be used to disable Gaza's power station in a future confrontation with the enclave's Hamas rulers. Israel bombed the plant during its three-week assault on Gaza in the winter of 2008, causing widespread blackouts in the territory.

Mr Abu Sisi's family also suggested another reason why Israeli might consider him a high-value target. They say he had recently developed methods of reducing the plant's dependency on high-grade diesel fuel, which Gaza buys from Israel. Hamas officials, in January, said the station's turbines had been modified to work on regular diesel, which is cheaper and can be smuggled in through tunnels from Egypt.

The Israeli media, citing no sources, have suggested that Mr Abu Sisi is a senior Hamas activist, an allegation denied by his family.

One of Mr Abu Sisi's Israeli lawyers, Smadar Ben Nathan, who met him for the first time at the court hearing on Sunday, said she believed Israel had carried out the operation based on false information.

She called the abduction a "miscalculation", saying Israeli interrogators had dropped their original line of questioning. She said the gag order prevented her from further discussing the case.

Ms Ben Nathan said she expected Mr Abu Sisi to be indicted in the coming weeks on some kind of security charges.

Although the Mossad is suspected of carrying out many assassinations on foreign soil, including the murder of a Hamas operative, Mahmoud Mabhouh, in a Dubai hotel last year, Ms Ben Nathan could think of only two similar examples of the spy agency seizing individuals in foreign countries and bringing them to trial: Adolph Eichmann, a Nazi official and one of the main organisers of the Holocaust, and Mordechai Vanunu, a nuclear whisteblower. Eichmann was snatched in 1960 in Argentina, Mr Vanunu in Italy in 1986.

Victor Kattan, an international law expert at the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London, said Israel had broken several international human rights laws in seizing him rather than following extradition procedures. Israel and Ukraine have signed an extradition treaty.

According to an account by the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, three men, two of them in uniform, dragged Mr Abu Sisi, hooded and handcuffed, from his train carriage at a stop en route to Kiev, where he was due to meet his brother.

He was later interrogated in an apartment by six people who identified themselves as Mossad agents, before being put on a plane. The flight took about four hours. The plane then made another flight of about an hour to Israel, the centre said in a statement, which it said was based on statements by an unnamed Israeli lawyer who it said had access to Mr Abu Sisi.

Mr Abu Sisi's brother, Yousef, accused Ukraine of being "deeply involved", adding that he had spent three weeks being "kicked like a football from one office to another" as he sought help from the police and various intelligence agencies. "At one point an official even threatened to make me disappear," he said.

Mr Abu Sisi was in Ukraine to apply for citizenship so the couple could emigrate with their six children, his brother said. "He was desperate to leave Gaza and take his children to Ukraine away from the Israeli bombs and attacks. How could he be a threat?"

According to Veronika, her husband had encountered problems at an interior ministry office in the city of Kharkiv earlier on the day of his disappearance. Officials there had briefly refused to return his passport.

So far Ukraine has kept a low profile on the incident.

During an official visit to Israel last week the Ukrainian prime minister, Mykola Azarov, said the circumstances around Mr Abu Sisi's disappearance were still confusing.

"We don't have clear information right now … I don't want to imagine that such things are carried out on the soil of a friendly state," the prime minister said in an interview with the Israeli daily Haaretz.

foreign.desk@thenational.ae

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