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Abbas: Murder of Italian activist is treason

April 16, 2011 3:30 P.M. (Updated: April 18, 2011 1:59 P.M.)
RAMALLAH (Ma'an) -- President Mahmoud Abbas has ordered the Attorney General to open an official investigation into the murder of an Italian activist found dead in Gaza on Friday.

Abbas' legal adviser Hasan Al-Uri said the killing of Vittorio Arrigoni would be treated as treason, and that those responsible could be sentenced to death, the official PA news agency Wafa reported.

"The murder of Arrigoni, who voluntarily risked his life to defend the independence and freedom of the Palestinian people is equal to the murder of a Palestinian fighter," Al-Uri added.

Arrigoni, 36, who was working with the pro-Palestinian International Solidarity Movement, was found dead by Hamas government security forces in a house in northern Gaza early on Friday.

He had been hanged, Hamas security officials said.

Arrigoni was abducted a day earlier by a group that identified itself as Salafist, and demanded that Hamas release Salafist prisoners within a 30-hour deadline that was to have expired on Friday afternoon.

The activist, who had spent three years in Gaza, was killed at least 12 hours ahead of the deadline for unknown reasons.

Gaza premier Ismail Haniyeh on Friday ordered the interior ministry of the Hamas-run government to open a criminal investigation into the killing.

The murder "does not reflect the values, morals, or the religion of the Palestinian people. This is an unprecedented case that won't be repeated," he said at an emergency meeting to discuss the crisis.

The killers will be brought to justice "as soon as possible" to deter any similar crime, he said, adding that the government would consider Vittorio a Palestinian martyr and name a street after him.

Hamas officials said Haniyeh called Arrigoni's mother to express his and his government's condolences for the death of her son. He explained the efforts the government was making to prosecute those responsible.

On Saturday, Gaza's interior ministry "managed to arrest two suspects" while with two additional suspects having been previously taken into custody, a statement said.

"The security forces continue to hunt other members of the group responsible for the murder," said the statement.

The suspects arrested were being questioned about Arrigoni's murder, it added, without revealing their names or when they were arrested.

Hamas had said Friday two suspected kidnappers were arrested and security officials were looking for accomplices.

Murder draws widespread condemnation

The murder prompted a far-reaching chorus of condemnation.

Abbas' Fatah party condemned the killing as a terrorist crime and "an act of betrayal," which served only Palestinians' enemies.

Hamas said it was a "disgraceful act" carried out by a "mentally deviated and outlawed group."

Islamic Jihad denounced the "grotesque crime," and the Palestinian People's Party said Arrigoni's murder was "a moral and national crime."

The Popular Resistance Committees condemned the murder as "a cowardly act," and Secretary General of the Palestinian National Initiative Mustafa Barghouthi expressed his deep sorrow at the "shocking criminal act."

Italy's foreign ministry expressed "deep horror over the barbaric murder," saying it was an "act of vile and senseless violence committed by extremists who are indifferent to the value of human life."

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called for "the perpetrators of this appalling crime to be brought to justice as soon as possible," his spokesperson said in a statement.

Friends and colleagues mourn loss

Arrigoni's kidnappers described him as a "journalist who came to our country for nothing but to corrupt people" -- a charge completely rejected by activists and aid workers who knew him in Gaza.

"He's very well-known, he lives among the people," said Huwaida Arraf, a co-founder of ISM. "Vit has repeatedly put his life in danger, put his life on the line in support of the Palestinians."

A journalist colleague at the Italian daily Il Manifesto said he was "astounded" by Arrigoni's death.

"We're also wondering how a pacifist who was wholeheartedly pro-Palestinian could be killed by Palestinians, even though you have to ask who those Palestinians were," Maurizio Matteuzzi told AFP.

In Jerusalem, shocked Italian volunteers who had just left Gaza converged on a hotel in the city's annexed eastern sector, the horror evident upon their faces.

"He was a lively, lovely person, we made fun of him because he was more Palestinian than Italian," said Simona Ghizzoni, a 34-year-old photographer who worked in Gaza for the Italian NGO Cospe.

"He was a real believer and a real activist for Palestinian human rights.

"When we got to the Palestinian checkpoint before Erez, there were all these Palestinians coming and saying 'We are sorry, we are sorry.' All the Palestinians I met are completely shocked and sad," she said.

Arrigoni is the third ISM member to be killed in Gaza -- US national Rachel Corrie was crushed to death by an Israeli bulldozer in March 2003, and a month later Briton Tom Hurndall was shot and critically injured by the army. He died in January 2004.

In Gaza City, several hundred people rallied in the Square of the Unknown Soldier against the killing, while in the West Bank, around 100 people, most of them foreigners, marched through Ramallah to a house of mourning in Al Bireh, an AFP correspondent said.

Palestinians and international peace activists held a vigil in Bethlehem's Nativity Square on Friday evening.

AFP contributed to this report
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