x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Disbelief over Nablus widow's apology in terror plot

Hamas says confession by widowed Palestinian mother of five to involvement in plot to kill governor of Nablus was 'politically motivated ploy' by its PA rivals to justify arresting its sympathisers in the West Bank.

NABLUS // On Wednesday, a widowed Palestinian mother of five, Tammam Abu Suud, 47, apologised at a press conference staged by Palestinian officials for her role in an alleged plan by Hamas to kidnap Israeli settlers, explode a car bomb in Jerusalem, commandeer a Palestinian Authority police station and assassinate the governor of Nablus, her hometown.

Mrs Abu Suud, one of about 45 suspects arrested since the PA announced it had foiled the plot last November, had just been pardoned by the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas.

Hamas officials have reacted sharply to her public contrition, calling it a politically motivated ploy by its PA rivals to justify arresting the Islamist group's sympathisers in the West Bank. The Islamist group also denies any involvement in the plot.

Rights groups say the rights of Mrs Abu Suud, who was denied a lawyer and faced trial before a Palestinian military tribunal, were violated. The case, they say, is another example of due process being undermined as a result of infighting between Mr Abbas's secular Fatah movement, which governs the West Bank, and the militant group Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip.

In what seemed like a choreographed media appearance on Wednesday, Mrs Abu Suud thanked Mr Abbas for his leniency, saying "even though I was accused and should have been tried".

She also stood next to the would-be assassination target, the Nablus governor, Jibrin al Bakri, offering her "apologies to the Palestinian people and to the governor".

Immediately after the press conference, Sami Abu Zuhri, a spokesman for Hamas, called the apology "immoral" and said it "had been extracted under pressure even though she was not implicated in anything".

Speaking at her home on Friday, Mrs Abu Suud, who works at a small advertising company, declined to discuss the accusation against her. She also would not say if she was a member of Hamas.

Privately, though, family members, who, fearing for their safety, spoke on condition of anonymity, professed her innocence and expressed concern that she would be arrested if she did so herself.

They claim her release was conditioned on her signing a confession and gag order on the subject.

They also said that both Palestinian and Israeli security personnel arrested two of Mrs Abu Suud's sons, Khadr and Moaatsem, shortly after her arrest. While Khadr, 17, was released by the PA after 23 days, Moaatsem, 18, remains in Israeli custody, they said.

However, Mr Bakri, the Nablus governor, said Mrs Abu Suud had given about 20,000 euros (Dh100,000) to the Hamas conspirators shortly before her arrest on November 17.

He defended the decision not to give her an attorney. "This is how you have to act against these people," he said.

He said it was Mrs Abu Suud's decision to make the public apology. "When she spoke to the media, she was speaking freely," he said. "Nobody told her what to say."

Mr Abbas decided to pardon her for humanitarian reasons, Mr Bakri said.

"The problem," the governor said, "is that her husband is dead but she has five children at home, living in a very difficult situation."

Mrs Abu Suud described her arrest and two-month detainment as stressful. "They didn't hurt me," she said. "It was gentle, physically speaking, but they put a lot of pressure on me."

"I was visited by military court officials when I was in my cell. They said, 'You need a lawyer, and tell him to visit you in prison'," she said. She said the lawyer never came.

She also said prison authorities failed to notify her family after she underwent a minor heart procedure while in prison. "No one told them about the surgery; it was the Red Cross who did," she said.

Mrs Abu Suud said she wrote a letter to Mr Abbas from prison, which ultimately led to her release.

"I asked for his forgiveness because I was an old woman with children," she said.

This was her first time ever in jail, she said.

Asked if she was unjustly arrested, a relative in the room interrupted and loudly told Mrs Abu Suud: "Just tell the truth, that you're innocent!"

Mrs Abu Suud responded, "No, I can't. Let me do the talking", adding: "I want to send a message to all political parties: stop the fighting and make amends."

hnaylor@thenational.ae