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ISRAEL: Israel admits to holding missing Gaza engineer

March 21, 2011 | 12:38 pm

Derar Abu Sisi, an engineer and deputy manager of the Gaza power plant, was reported missing last month in Ukraine after he boarded a train to Kiev but never made it. 

First, bloggers reported it. Then came the mainstream foreign press, and finally, the story made it into the Israeli press via the revolving-door practice of censorship-approved quoting of foreign reports and maybe a few "I know but can't tell you" hints too. Israeli readers are accustomed to reading between the lines. A Palestinian human rights group has also now published Abu Sisi's account of his abduction.

A petition filed by an Israeli rights non-governmental organization wrested from the court permission for Israeli media to report with authority the basic information already out there, that the Palestinian engineer from Gaza is being held in Israel. Abu Sisi is in Shikma prison in southern Israel while being investigated. The gag order was only partially lifted and the full Israeli version of the circumstances of how he went missing in Ukraine and turned up in Israel won't be cleared for publication in Israel for another 30 days.

According to foreign reports, Abu Sisi arrived in Ukraine — where he had studied for a decade and earned his doctorate in electrical engineering — in late January. A few weeks later he boarded a late-night train to Kiev, where he was to meet a friend before going to the airport to meet his brother Yousef,  who was coming in from Holland and whom he hadn't seen in years.

A few hours after the train arrived with no Abu Sisi, his brother reported the engineer missing. Veronika, the engineer's Ukrainian wife, accused Israel's  Mossad intelligence agency of abducting her husband with the purpose of gaining information to sabotage the Gaza power plant. She told the press she didn't know what to tell their six children about their father, who had "disappeared off a train in a democratic country."

According to the brother, Yousef, Ukrainian authorities hadn't gone out of their way to help. In a YouTube video appeal uploaded earlier this month, he said he got no official answer from the Ukrainian government, which kicked him around "like a ball from place to place," and that the intelligence offices did not want to help him. "I accuse the Ukrainian authorities" of being "absolutely involved in the case," he said.

Maybe Israeli readers had to wait for weeks to hear what had happened, but Yousef knew before long. In the same video, he told of a phone call he received from his missing brother, who told him he'd been abducted and was held under arrest in Petah Tikva. He had also given him the number of the public defense lawyer he'd been appointed;  Yousef said the lawyer confirmed his brother had been abducted and smuggled out of Ukraine and brought to Israel. His family has since hired a private attorney, Semadar Ben-Natan. According to reports, she has already met with Abu Sisi in Shikma prison, where he has been transferred.

Israeli officials were not commenting on the topic but a radio report noted that sources were nodding to foreign reports (again) about Abu Sisi being "deeply involved" in Hamas weaponry affairs.

Previously, the Associated Press had quoted a spokesman for the United Nations High Commission for Refugees in Ukraine saying he didn't have the details of just how the engineer had wound up in Israel, "but unfortunately, what happened looks like a violent abduction and not a legal extradition." The U.N. also suspected local security forces had been involved.

Israel and Ukraine have been tightening up ties lately, including a mutual visa waiver and also on security issues. Earlier this month, Ukrainian Premier Nikolai Azarov made his first official visit to Israel and discussed bilateral relations with the press. Asked for his response in case the then-rumors that the engineer had been kidnaped by Israeli intelligence, Azarov responded: "I don't want to imagine that such things are carried out on the soil of a friendly state."

-- Batsheva Sobelman in Jerusalem

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