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Palestinian who mysteriously disappeared in Ukraine still in Israel

By Kareem Khadder and Dan Morgan, CNN
Palestinian relatives of Dirar Abu Sisi attend a Gaza demonstration calling for his release from an Israeli jail on Tuesday.
Palestinian relatives of Dirar Abu Sisi attend a Gaza demonstration calling for his release from an Israeli jail on Tuesday.
  • Engineer runs the power plant in Gaza
  • He wants to move to Ukraine, his wife says
  • He disappeared February 18, his family says
  • Israel
  • Palestine
  • Ukraine

Jerusalem (CNN) -- In the latest chapter of an unfolding story that reads like a spy thriller, a Palestinian engineer who was allegedly abducted by Israeli intelligence services in the Ukraine over a month ago will be kept in custody for at least another week after an Israeli court ruling.

After being held for over 30 days in an Israeli jail under mysterious circumstances, Dirar Abu Sisi's incarceration will last at least one more week after a judge in a Petach Tikvah court Thursday granted an Israeli government request to keep Abu Sisi behind bars in order for the state to produce evidence against him.

"This request means that Israel does not have, even after 34 days of interrogation, sufficient evidence to indict Dirar Abu Sisi with any offense under Israeli law and under these circumstances we argue that he should be released, " Abu Sisi's attorney Smadar Ben-Natan told CNN following his court appearance.

"I hope that he will be released after these eight days. I expect that after these days, the prosecution might present an indictment. We plan to argue against the future indictment saying that the circumstances of this person's arrest give him the defense of abusive process," his lawyer added.

Abu Sisi is the director of operations at the Gaza power plant.

He disappeared in the Ukraine on February 18. Speculation he was being held in an Israeli jail was confirmed March 21 after Israeli authorities admitted Abu Sisi was being held and questioned by Israeli intelligence following a partial lifting of reporting restrictions.

But just why the Palestinian engineer was being held and what charges the Israeli government intends to bring against him remain unclear. So far, not even his lawyers have been granted access to the results of his interrogation, they say.

"We know about the suspicions only generally. The material from the interrogation is still not being disclosed to us and there is a gag order over that, too," Ben-Natan said after the Gazan engineer appeared in court on Thursday.

The details surrounding the case are no less mysterious than how Abu Sisi landed in an Israeli jail in the first place.

The 42-year old went missing on February 18 when he boarded a train in Krakow, Poland headed for Kiev, where he was to meet his brother at the airport. But the Palestinian engineer never arrived, leaving his family scrambling to ascertain his whereabouts.

"My brother in Holland called me and told me that Dirar did not show up at the airport. I told him this was not possible and that he should be there. Later I called his wife and told her Dirar was not answering his mobile phones. His wife called his friends and they confirmed they had taken him to the train station and that he boarded the train," Abu Sisi's sister Susan told CNN.

Abu Sisi's wife is from the Ukraine and the couple had traveled to the country on January 27. According to his wife and lawyers, Abu Sisi was applying for residency for himself and his six children because they were planning to emigrate from Gaza.

"He was previously in the Ukraine asking for residency and planning to stay in the Ukraine," Ben-Natan said.

His wife Veronica said, "I returned to Gaza because I finished all my paper work and because of my children, and my husband remained in Kiev to continue his paper work."

Soon after his disappearance his wife returned to the Ukraine looking for her husband, but her pleas to authorities fell on deaf ears.

"I tried everything; I did not leave out any office. I met everyone from the president to lawyers and all told me the same thing, that they did not know anything," said Veronica Abu Sisi.

Prior to the Israeli government's public acknowledgment that it was holding Abu Sisi, the Ukrainian Ministry of Internal Affairs said it was actively trying to locate the missing engineer.

"The Ukrainian Ministry of Internal Affairs from various state and public institutions and organizations received applications for assistance in establishing the whereabouts of 42-year old Palestinian citizen Abu Sisi Dirar, who disappeared in unclear circumstances in February 2011," read a ministry statement.

It said further that Ukrainian authorities were undertaking all measures in order to locate Abu Sisi and that ministry personnel as well as border and customs officers were trying to ascertain his whereabouts, by "checking for existing e-mail, police, hospitals hotels and others."

After myriad attempts to locate her husband it became clear, Mrs. Abu Sisi said, that he was not being held by the Ukrainians as the family initially thought. Once that had been ruled out, their suspicions fell on Israeli intelligence.

Though the Israeli intelligence services have not admitted to the alleged kidnapping of Abu Sisi, the Palestinian engineer reappeared several weeks later inside an Israeli prison.

In fact the Israeli government has denied all comment on the case citing the gag order preventing the release of details.

According to the Palestinian Center for Human rights (PCHR), a Gaza based human rights organization, one of its lawyers met with Abu Sisi in a prison in Ashkelon, Israel on March 20, where Abu Sisi related the circumstances of his abduction.

"Abu Sisi said that three persons, two in military uniforms, entered his room on the train when he was about to meet his brother Yousuf from Amsterdam. They asked him to show his passport but he refused. Then they threatened him and forcefully took his passport" reads the PCHR's account of the conversation.

"They forced him to get off the train at the nearby station of Poltava. At this time he was handcuffed and hooded. He was transported in a car to Kiev. Once in Kiev, he was held in an apartment where there were another six persons who introduced themselves to be members of the Mossad" Israel's foreign intelligence organization.

"Abu Sisi said that the Mossad members immediately questioned him and then flew him by plane. The flight lasted between four and five hours before landing in a place unknown to him. Approximately thirty minutes later, they took off again and the flight lasted for approximately one hour. Upon landing Abu Sisi found himself in Israel," according to PCHR.

Abu Sisi told the PCHR lawyer that he was denied contact with a lawyer for 14 days. "This denial was extended for another 11 days. He said that he was placed under intensive interrogations and that he was denied his legal rights," according to a PCHR new release posted on the organization's website.

Abu Sisi's wife said she received a phone call from her husband on February 27 in which he told her and his brother that he had been in Israel since February 19.

"Dirar called me and said he wanted to talk to me in Arabic. I gave the phone to his brother who was standing next to me. He told him that he has been in Israel since the 19th of February and that he should look after our children," she told CNN.

Family members of Abu Sisi in Gaza held a sit-in protest this past week in front of the United Nations headquarters in Gaza demanding his immediate release.

Abu Sisi's sister, Susan, told CNN that she believed the Mossad was behind his disappearance because he is the only one who knows how to operate the power plant in Gaza.

"Dirar is the main operational manager for the power plant in Gaza. If it wasn't for Dirar, the power plant would not operate. He is not politically involved in any political party. The plant used to work on the Israeli solar or petrol. Dirar managed a way to make the turbines work and operate on the Egyptian solar or petrol," Susan Abu Sisi told CNN.

Ben-Natan rejected the idea that Abu Sisi might have anything to do with Hamas and claims that his extended interrogation is aimed at coercing him into admitting to something he is not involved with.

"He is very exhausted after what he has been through. He sees the interrogation as meant to break his spirit and make him confess things that he did not commit. He was not part of Hamas leadership. He was holding a civil position in the power plant of the Gaza strip and this interrogation is trying to portray him as something that he is not," he said.

His lawyer also argued that should it emerge that Israeli intelligence abducted Abu Sisi from the Ukraine, they will have many questions to answer to as their acts will have been in contradiction of international law and treaties between the Ukraine and Israel.

"There is an extradition convention between the Ukraine and Israel. The European extradition convention applies and both states are party to it and the procedure which was going on in this case was contrary to that convention and to international law," said Ben-Natan.