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Israel accused of 'assassinating' Palestinian exile in Bulgaria

Omar Zayed dies after being found injured at Palestinian embassy in Sofia, where he had been seeking refuge from extradition to Israel
Omar Zayed was violently killed, reports say (MEE/Diana Zayed)

An escaped Palestinian political prisoner has died after being found with fatal injuries on Friday inside the Palestinian embassy in Bulgaria, in what Palestinian officials have described as an Israeli “assassination”.

Omar Nayef Zayed sought refuge in the embassy in Sofia in mid-December after Israel demanded his extradition to serve out a life sentence for the murder of an Israeli settler in 1986.

The 52-year-old from Jenin in the occupied West Bank had been living in Bulgaria since 1994 following his escape from a Bethlehem hospital in 1990, where he had been receiving treatment for problems caused by a 40-day hunger strike against his sentence.

Zayed denies committing murder and had said that he was tortured into confessing by Israeli authorities. 

Israeli authorities had tried to have him returned to their custody under an extradition treaty agreed with the EU.

It was reported by the Jerusalem Post that in January that Bulgarian authorities had given Zayed three days to hand himself in.

Zayed refused to give himself up and continued to live in the Palestinian embassy, where he was discovered on Friday morning.

The Sofia News Agency reported that a Palestinian embassy official had said Zayed’s death had been caused by “violence”.

The Palestinian deputy foreign minister, Taysir Jaradat, told Maan News that embassy officials had found Zayed lying in the mission’s garden “covered in blood”. Zayed was “rushed to hospital but died en route”.

Zayed was a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). The group condemned his killing and accused multiple agencies of being responsible for his death.

“We in the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine hold fully responsible for this nefarious crime the Zionist State and the Israeli Mossad who targeted Comrade Omar Nayef Zayed for assassination," the statement said.

"We hold responsible the Palestinian Authority and the Palestinian Embassy in Bulgaria who failed to protect him and his security, and the Bulgarian government and security forces who pursued Comrade Nayef Zayed for arrest and imprisonment for over three months.

“We note the full responsibility of the Palestinian Authority at the highest levels for failing to protect Comrade Nayef Zayed from assassination, up to and including PA President Mahmoud Abbas, Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki and Ambassador Ahmad al-Madbouh.”

Issa Qaraqe, the head of the Palestinian Committee for Prisoners’ Affairs, told Maan News that he believed Israeli security agency Mossad had killed him.

Qaraqe described the killing as an “act of international piracy” and the official demanded an “international investigation” into the incident. 

Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas has announced the formation of a special commission of enquiry to look into his death, according to the Palestinian news agency, Wafa.

There was no official Israeli comment but Israeli public radio quoted "a security source" as saying that "Israel has no interest in striking at an elderly terrorist, especially if it involves danger or committing resources".

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