Hamas links Israel to killing of Italian activist

Sat, Apr 16, 2011, 01:00

HAMAS YESTERDAY accused Israel of indirect responsibility for the kidnapping and killing of Italian rights activist Vittorio Arrigoni, whose body was found hanging in a Gaza city flat.

During mourning ceremonies in Gaza, Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahar suggested the aim of the “awful crime” was to intimidate activists planning a flotilla in May with the aim of breaking the blockade of Gaza.

He said foreign activists were “our friends” and vowed the perpetrators would be punished. Similar gatherings were held in the West Bank, where President Mahmoud Abbas condemned the murder.

Hamas security officials reported that Mr Arrigoni was killed soon after his abduction, although the kidnappers had offered to free him in exchange for the release of their leader, Sheikh Abu Walid al-Maqdas, detained last month by Hamas.

The abductors proclaimed they belonged to a previously unknown faction, the Brigade of the Gallant Companion of the Prophet Muhammad bin Muslima, said to be an offshoot of Tawhid-wa-Jihad (Monotheism and Holy War), a radical Muslim (Salafi) group. But Gaza’s Salafi factions have denounced the deed and denied involvement. Five men have been arrested.

Over the past few years puritan Salafis have attacked internet cafes, hair salons and restaurants and admonished unrelated couples keeping company in public. In 2009, Hamas killed 24 members of a faction that had proclaimed an “Islamic emirate” in Gaza.

Mr Arrigoni’s abduction was the first since Hamas took control of the strip in 2007.

Mr Arrigoni (36), a pacifist and writer, travelled to Gaza in August 2008 on the maiden voyage of the Free Gaza movement to break Israel’s blockade. An activist with the International Solidarity Movement (ISM), which campaigns for Palestinian rights, he took part in another voyage along with Irish Nobel laureate Maireád Maguire in October of that year. During Israel’s 2008-2009 war on Gaza he aided medical teams and reported events to Italian newspapers.

After the war he accompanied fishermen harassed by Israeli patrol boats while seeking to cast their nets beyond arbitrary limits set by Israel. He also went with farmers harvesting crops in the wide buffer zone imposed by Israel on the Gaza side of the border.

He was wounded when an Israeli gunboat fired on a fishing vessel and detained several times by Israeli authorities. Mr Arrigoni held honorary Palestinian citizenship and was considered a hero by many Palestinians.

He was the third ISM activist to die in Gaza, the first said to be slain by Palestinians. US citizen Rachel Corrie was crushed by an Israeli bulldozer demolishing Palestinian homes and Briton Tom Hurndall was trying to protect Palestinian children when he was shot by Israeli troops.

Mr Arrigoni’s murder occurred only 10 days after the fatal West Bank shooting in the Jenin refugee camp of Juliano Mer-Khamis, director of the city’s Freedom Theatre.

Film-maker Mer-Khamis – whose mother was a leftist Israeli Jew and father was a Christian Palestinian – sought to bridge the widening gulf between Palestinians and Israelis by staging plays for vulnerable camp children.