Israel: Plot to Assassinate Prime Minster Olmert Foiled

The Israeli intelligence services say they have foiled a plot to assassinate Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and other senior Israeli political figures. Details of the story were released yesterday after Israeli authorities lifted a media blackout.

The plot allegedly centered on Mazab Bashir, a 25-year-old Palestinian from Gaza who worked for the international medical relief organization Doctors Without Borders. According to the Israelis, Bashir was arrested in Jerusalem while he was gathering intelligence for future terrorist attacks.

It is not uncommon for Palestinians from Gaza to be granted travel permits by the Israeli security agencies if they work for recognized nongovernmental organizations. Bashir held such a permit, which allowed him to travel regularly from the Gaza Strip to Jerusalem, officials said.

The indictment said Bashir made several surveillance tours of the area surrounding Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's Jerusalem residence but decided that the building was too well protected. Working with the Palestinian militant group, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, he allegedly received hand to hand combat training and used the Internet to find alternative Israeli personalities to target.

He was arrested in Jerusalem April 19. It is not clear how the Israeli intelligence services learned of the plot. No one from the organization was available for comment about the details of the investigation and arrest. Bashir was formerly indicted in Jerusalem District Court Thursday.

He had been working with Doctors Without Borders for five years as a translator in Gaza, and in October 2006 he received his first travel permit to go to Israel, according to Duncan Mclean, the regional director of Doctors Without Borders, who told local journalists Bashir had never aroused suspicion.

"We are a humanitarian organization, and if we felt he was a risk we would not have employed him," Mclean said.

All Palestinian staff who work for international organizations, including media organizations, undergo stringent security screening by the Israeli intelligence service, Shin Bet. It is very hard for Palestinians living in Gaza to get travel permits to enter Israel. Since the beginning of the second Palestinian intifada in 2000, Israel has placed ever stricter security demands on Palestinians seeking entry to Israeli territory.

This case will almost certainly lead to a review of the security screening of all Palestinian NGO staff, making it more difficult for them to gain entry permits to Israel.

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