BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- Escaped Palestinian prisoner Omar al-Nayif was found dead inside the headquarters of the Palestinian embassy in Bulgaria Friday, in what senior Palestinian officials and his family have said was an "assassination" carried out by Israel.
Nayif, a 52-year-old man from Jenin, had been living in Bulgaria for years, but late last year sought refuge in the Palestinian embassy 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.
Palestinian Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Taysir Jaradat told Ma'an embassy staff found Nayif lying in the embassy's garden covered in blood. He was rushed to hospital but died en route.
Jaradat did not initially point any fingers, saying the ministry was investigating Nayif's death, and President Mahmoud Abbas also quickly ordered an investigation into what he said was a crime.
However, Issa Qaraqe, the head of the Palestinian Committee for Prisoners' Affairs, quickly accused Israel's overseas intelligence agency Mossad of being behind the death.
He said it was an act of "international piracy" and demanded an international investigation into the death. Qaraqe noted that Nayif's death came just one day after another former prisoner, Ayman Jaradat, was "assassinated" by unknown assailants in Jenin.
Nayif's family also branded his death an "assassination."
Nayif took refuge in the Palestinian embassy in Bulgaria shortly after Israel demanded that the Bulgarian justice ministry turn him over on Dec. 15, when Bulgarian police reportedly gave Nayif 72 hours to turn himself in.
Nayif refused to turn himself into the Bulgarian authorities, considering the procedure illegal, according to the Palestinian Committee for Prisoners' Affairs.
The left-wing Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestinian, of which Nayif was a member, in a statement
said Israel was responsible for the assassination, but also said Palestinian Authority officials -- who met with Bulgarian counterparts earlier this week -- shared the blame.
The group said: "This crime took place as the highest officials of the Palestinian Authority met with the highest officials of the Bulgarian state in Ramallah, with no apparent demands made for our pursued comrade."
PFLP following Israel's attempt to extradite Nayif had called on Bulgarian authorities to reject the request, which the group feared would if accepted would "set a dangerous precedent for the prosecution and arrest of Palestinian and Arab strugglers, especially former prisoners who reside in European countries."
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 he had 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.