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PFLP holds symbolic funeral for member 'assassinated' in Bulgaria

Feb. 29, 2016 5:23 P.M. (Updated: Feb. 29, 2016 7:24 P.M.)
GAZA CITY (Ma’an) -- Hundreds of Palestinians gathered in the streets of Gaza City on Monday to hold a symbolic funeral for an escaped Palestinian prisoner believed to have been assassinated by Israel in the Palestinian embassy in Bulgaria last week.

Palestinians gathered to pay their respects to Omar al-Nayif, a well-known member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), who was was found dead inside the embassy on Friday.

He sought refuge there late last year after Israel demanded his extradition so he could see out a life sentence over the killing of an Israeli in Jerusalem's Old City in 1986.

The "funeral" was organized by the PFLP in Gaza, with many other factions in attendance.

Hani al-Thawabta, an PFLP official in the Strip, said the "negligence" of the Palestinian Authority's foreign ministry, as well as the embassy in Bulgaria, had led to al-Nayif's death, and was "the major reason al-Nayif was assassinated."

Al-Thawabta told Ma'an that "if there the case was taken seriously and responsible actions were taken, Israeli intelligence would not have been able to reach al-Nayif."

Senior Hamas official Ismail Radwan urged the PA to form a committee to investigate al-Nayif's death.

Nayif was found lying in the Palestinian embassy's garden covered in blood early Friday last week. The 52-year-old from Jenin had been living in Bulgaria for decades, but fled to the embassy in December after Israel demanded his extradition.

While some Palestinian leaders, including President Mahmoud Abbas, were cautious about pointing fingers, other officials quickly accused Israel of being behind the death, saying Israel's overseas intelligence service Mossad had carried out an "assassination."

Nayif was originally arrested by Israeli police in 1986 and sentenced to life imprisonment for killing an Israeli settler. Four years into his sentence, he went on hunger strike, and after 40 days was transferred to a hospital in Bethlehem.

Shortly afterward, on May 21, 1990, he escaped the hospital and slipped out of the occupied Palestinian territory, living in several different Arab nations until 1994, when he was able to travel to Bulgaria.

He had lived there since, marrying a Bulgarian woman with whom he had three children, and acquiring Bulgarian residency. Israel considered his case legally active until 2020 -- or 30 years after he escaped their custody.

Nayif should have been released by Israel as part of the 1993 Oslo Accords, which obligated Israel to release all Palestinian political prisoners held until that point. Had he not escaped, he would have been one of around 30 pre-Oslo Palestinian prisoners still in Israeli custody.

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