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Israeli Arab Sentenced to Prison After Joining Syrian Rebels

An Israeli Arab has been sentenced to 30 months in prison after his return from Syria’s rebel war against President Bashar al-Assad.
By Chana Ya'ar
First Publish: 7/8/2013, 5:11 PM

Syrian Rebel fighters, 19th June
Syrian Rebel fighters, 19th June
Reuters

An Israeli Arab has been sentenced to 30 months in prison after his return from a stint as a participant in Syria’s rebel war against President Bashar al-Assad.

Hikmat Massarwa, a 29-year-old baker, was convicted Monday on charges of endangering national security after a brief turn in fighting on the side of the Syrian rebels.

Officials said the case, the first of its kind, could have landed Massarwa behind bars for 15 years.

According to a statement in March by the Israel Security Agency (Shin Bet), Massarwa made contact with members of Al Qaeda-linked terrorist groups fighting against government forces. The Shin Bet said the jihadists questioned Massarwa about the IDF and the Dimona nuclear reactor.

The security agency also said Massarwa had gone north to track his brother, who had gone to Syria several months earlier to join the rebels and who was since unaccounted for. 

His lawyer, Helal Jaber, confirmed the latter and said Massarwa “was in the company of mainstream Syrian rebels fighting Assad.”

The relatively light sentence he received came as the result of a plea bargain following his arrest on March 19, in which he confessed to unlawfully traveling to a hostile state and meeting with a “foreign agent.” 

In exchange, prosecutors dropped the charge of receiving illicit military training. Massarwa, who was accused of being trained to use small arms by radical Islamist rebels, returned to Israel via Turkey after having spent a week at a rebel base in Syria.

He also agreed in the deal to acknowledge that his actions “had potential to threaten the security of the State of Israel.”

The Islamists who allegedly asked him to carry out a suicide bombing in Israel apparently failed to convince him to do so.

Syria has technically been in a state of war with Israel for decades, although the border has been quiet since the cease fire was declared and a no man’s land buffer zone set into place in the Golan Heights in 1974.