Israel frees Al Jazeera's Kabul bureau chief

Samer Allawi released by military court after being arrested following a trip to his West Bank hometown.

    Samer Allawi was charged by Israeli authorities with being a member of Hamas

    Israel has freed Al Jazeera's Kabul bureau chief from custody, saying he has been given a suspended prison sentence for links to Hamas, the Palestinian group that controls the Gaza Strip.

    Samer Allawi, a West Bank native and head of the network's Arabic news bureau in the Afghan capital, said after his release on Monday that his contacts with Palestinian Islamists were part of his work as a journalist.

    Allawi, who was arrested on August 10 at the border crossing to Jordan after visiting family in the city of Nablus, accused Israel of using him to "extort" Al Jazeera.

    The Qatar-based station's Jerusalem bureau has occasionally clashed with Israeli officials who accused it of bias.

    Israel said Allawi was convicted by a military court of "conspiracy to provide a service for an outlawed organisation" but, under a plea bargain, received a suspended eight-month jail term.

    The court ruled he was free to return to Afghanistan.
    Hamas, which won a Palestinian legislative election in 2006 and seized control of Gaza in a brief civil war a year later, is designated a terrorist group by Israel, the United States and European Union.

    'Extorting Al Jazeera'

    Though it enjoys support from Muslims abroad, Hamas says its operations are limited to Israel and occupied Palestinian territory.
    "There was no evidence against me," Allawi told the Reuters news agency upon returning to the West Bank. "The whole arrest episode was a charade aimed at extorting Al Jazeera. I was not the target."
    He met with Hamas, Allawi said, because "I meet people everywhere from whom I can get the news".
    The plea bargain included a 5,000 shekel ($1,351) fine, Allawi said. 
    Al Jazeera's Jerusalem bureau, run by an Israeli Arab, was briefly boycotted in 2008 by government officials who accused it of reporting in favour of Hamas.

    Salim Waqim, Allawi's lawyer, told Al Jazeera that his client was interrogated about his work and management of Al Jazeera's Kabul bureau, his personal financial information and his relationships with colleagues, friends, family and relatives.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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