Israel Arabs protest over Islamist held in Britain

9th July 2011, Comments 0 comments

Several thousand Israeli Arabs protested in Nazareth on Saturday against the detention in Britain of controversial Islamist leader Sheikh Raed Saleh who faces deportation.

An AFP journalist said around 4,000 people, among them Arab members of the Israeli parliament, marched through the town in northern Israel holding pictures of the imam and chanting, "We are all Sheikh Saleh."

The demonstration, which had been authorised by police and passed off peacefully, was called by the Islamic Movement to demand the immediate release of its leader.

Saleh flew to Britain at the end of June, despite a government ban on him entering the country.

He was arrested in London on June 28 after returning from a public event in the central English city of Leicester, one of several he was attending during a week-long visit, his lawyers said.

He had been due to speak at an event at the House of Commons organised by the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign (PSC) the following day, alongside three opposition Labour MPs.

British Home Secretary Theresa May said arrangements had begun to remove Saleh, leader of the radical northern wing of the Islamic Movement, and an investigation had been launched into how he managed to enter the country.

Saleh's lawyers said he had no idea he was subject to an exclusion order and vowed to "strongly challenge" attempts to deport him.

Saleh has had multiple run-ins with the law in Israel, including most recently being arrested at the border with Jordan after allegedly striking an interrogator.

In 2010, he spent five months behind bars for spitting at an Israeli policeman, and he has been detained several other times, including in connection with an alleged arson incident.

He was also held after taking part in a the Gaza Strip-bound aid flotilla which Israeli naval commandos stormed on May 31, 2010 in an operation that killed nine Turkish activists.

The Islamic Movement is tolerated in Israel but is under constant surveillance because of its perceived links with the Palestinian militant Hamas movement that controls Gaza, as well as with other Islamist groups worldwide.

Israel's Arab community of 1.3 million, about 20 percent of the population, is made up of 160,000 Palestinians who remained in Israel after the 1948 establishment of the Jewish state, and their descendants.

© 2011 AFP

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