Hamas politburo member Mahmoud al-Zahar on Monday attacked the Palestinian Authority (PA) for releasing an American citizen who had been sentenced to life imprisonment for transferring land in Jerusalem to Israelis.
Issam Akel, a 53-year-old Arab-American who also holds an Israeli identification card, was abducted by PA forces in October, after he is said to have facilitated the sale of Arab-owned property in the Old City of Jerusalem to Jewish buyers.
In December, a PA court in Ramallah sentenced Akel to life imprisonment with hard labor for the crime of selling land to a foreign country – Israel. Despite the sentence, however, Akel was handed over to the United States last week, after the US and PA signed a secret agreement.
Zahar called the Palestinian Authority's decision "a crime and a severe national betrayal that requires punishment."
In an interview with the Felesteen al-Yawm website, which is affiliated with the Islamic Jihad terrorist organization, Zahar said that the decision on this issue shows once again that the Palestinian Authority is "an agent and a tool in the hands of the Israeli occupation."
"The land of Palestine will only be sold to its owners, and there is no permit to sell it to enemies and traitors," he said. "Allah will sooner or later avenge all those who betrayed Palestine."
Under PA law, selling of land to Jews is illegal and punishable by death. However, such sentences must be approved by the PA chairman, and current chairman Mahmoud Abbas has preferred to authorize life sentences for such offenses, possibly due to fear of an international backlash.
In 2014, Abbas toughened the PA law against selling property to Israeli Jews, so that any Palestinian Arabs involved in renting, selling or facilitating real estate transactions with citizens of "hostile countries" in any way would receive life imprisonment and hard-labor.
In October, the “National Popular Council of Al-Quds” described the sale of real estate to Jews as "a despicable crime against Al-Quds, Palestine and the homeland."