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Palestinian-Israeli politician arrested

Basel Ghattas has denied accusations that he gave cellphones to Palestinian prisoners
Basel Ghattas says his advocacy for prisoners is humanitarian issue (AFP)

Israeli police said on Thursday they arrested a Palestinian Israeli MP whose immunity was lifted after he was suspected of secretly giving cellphones to two Palestinian high security prisoners.

Basel Ghattas of the Joint List, a coalition of Palestinian Israeli parties, has denied the accusations.

“This is your immunity; I return it to you.”

-Basel Ghattas

A police spokesman told AFP that Ghattas was in custody after being questioned, and will appear before a judge on Friday morning at Rishon LeZion, about 10km south of Tel Aviv.

The 60-year-old said on Thursday he would accept his parliamentary immunity being lifted shortly before a planned vote in the Knesset on the issue.

In a defiant videotaped message Ghattas called his prosecution unjust.

“This is your immunity; I return it to you,” the MP said. “My decision to accept lifting the immunity stems from my conviction that I have nothing to hide. I am willing to answer any question asked to me.”

Ghattas insisted that he did not commit any violation against the “so-called state security”, adding that his advocacy for prisoners is a humanitarian issue.

“I don’t regret my activism,” he said.  

According to Ghattas’s office, lifting parliamentary immunity in this fashion is unprecedented. It said such move is reserved for suspects of rape, harassment and embezzlement who were later convicted.

Israeli media have reported that 12 mobile phones were found on two separate prisoners in searches after Ghattas visited Ketziot prison in the Negev desert.

One of the prisoners is serving time for the kidnapping and killing of an Israeli soldier in 1984, news site Ynet reported.

Police on Thursday said the MP was suspected of passing phones and SIM cards to detainees at the prison on an unspecified date.

Lawmakers from the Joint List, the third-largest force in parliament with 13 seats, frequently clash with Israel's leaders. Palestinian citizens of Israel make up some 17.5 percent of the country's population.

On Wednesday, parliament decided to restrict visits by deputies to high security prisoners.

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