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Israeli police arrest 13 more in Palestinian party probe

Balad members have accused authorities of trying to suppress Palestinian political organising in Israel
Arab-Israeli Member of Parliament with the secular Balad party, Haneen Zuabi (also spelled Hanin) speaks during a campaign meeting ahead of the Israeli general election (AFP)

Israeli police said Wednesday they had arrested 13 more people as part of an investigation into a prominent Palestinian political party's financing.

A total of 36 people have now been taken into custody in connection with the investigation into the financing of the Balad party.

Those arrested have included party officials and activists.

Balad has denounced the probe as an attempt to silence Israel's Palestinian minority, which accounts for 17.5 percent of the country's eight million population and is largely supportive of the Palestinian cause.

"The arrests aim to intimidate and scare, nothing else," it said in a statement.

Balad is especially critical of Israeli policies and one of its members of parliament, Haneen Zoabi, has frequently angered Israeli officials.

Police said they were investigating suspicions of fraud, money laundering, and illegal use of party funds.

They have said that Balad members were accused of creating a mechanism that for years misrepresented "the origin of millions of shekels" obtained from within Israel and abroad.

Authorities did not provide further information on the alleged sources of the financing.

Balad, an acronym for National Democratic Assembly, is part of the Joint List, a coalition of Palestinian parties in parliament.

The Joint List holds 13 of the 120 seats in parliament, of which three are held by Balad, and is the third largest bloc in the legislature.

Balad's three MPs triggered outrage among Jewish Israelis earlier this year when they met relatives of Palestinians who authorities say were killed while carrying out attacks.

In response, parliament passed a controversial law in July allowing the expulsion of MPs deemed guilty of racial incitement or supporting armed struggle against Israel.

Analysts have said the law will be extremely difficult to put into practice as any expulsion would require the support of 90 of the 120 MPs.

Balad founder and then MP Azmi Bishara fled Israel in 2007 amid allegations he advised Lebanese Shia militia Hezbollah and directed its rocket fire against Israel during a month-long war the previous year.

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