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Palestinian activist detained in MI5 sting operation to appear in Belfast’s High Court

Palestinian activist and doctor Issam Hijjawi Bassalat will appear in Belfast’s High Court on Friday as his legal team appeal for his release on bail amid growing concerns for his health.

Mr Bassalat suffered a heart attack in October, just days before a previous bail application hearing, but remains behind bars facing terrorism charges.

Lawyers warn he is in poor health and that keeping him in prison will pose a serious risk to his life, arguing that he should be released.

He was detained in an MI5 sting operation known as Operation Arbacia, which focused on dissident republican organisations in the north of Ireland.

The well-known campaigner for the liberation of Palestine claims he was lured to a meeting by an MI5 infiltrator, Dennis McFadden, to attend a bugged meeting with members of Saoradh.

He was arrested at Heathrow airport in August 2020 at the same time as other members of the republican organisation, which is blamed for the killing of journalist Lyra McKee.

Defence lawyers say that the medic was “entrapped” by intelligence services who tricked him into believing that he had to pick up his daughter’s passport renewal in Belfast instead of Glasgow.

While in the north of Ireland he claims he was asked to speak at a public meeting hosted by Saoradh, and said he accepted having previously addressed their national conference.

He is charged with “preparatory acts of terrorism” under the 2006 Terrorism Act, based on his attendance at this meeting engineered by MI5.

According to his lawyer Gavin Booth the transcript of the meeting “is about Palestine, is about peaceful and democratic change” and does not promote violence in any way.

His situation has been ignored by global human rights organisations and the Edinburgh-based former GP remains locked up in Maghaberry high security prison.

Mr Bassalat has said in a previous statement that he faces “all the might of the British government” for challenging its role in creating the Palestinian plight through the Balfour Declaration more than 100 years ago.

The Samidoun Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network views Mr Bassalat as a political prisoner and has called for his immediate release.

“Issam is being targeted as a Palestinian in an attempt to justify the MI5 infiltration of public political parties and to smear both the Palestinian and Irish struggles through entrapment and misrepresentation,” it said in a statement.

Today’s hearing will be held in front of a single judge with no jury present under emergency laws.

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