Former professors refute Israel’s indictment of kidnapped Gaza engineer

Former professors of Dirar Abu Sisi, the engineer from Gaza who went missing during a train trip in Ukraine last February, refute allegations in Israel’s indictment that the man was taught weapons systems at university. The indictment also claims that one of Abu Sisi’s professors studied at a military engineering school in east Ukraine, though no such school exists, the Associated Press has found.

The Israeli daily Haaretz reported today:

Dirar Abu Sisi, 42, vanished from a train in Ukraine in February and resurfaced days later in an Israeli prison. Abu Sisi, who claims innocence, is to stand trial in coming weeks on hundreds of counts of attempted murder and conspiracy to commit murder.

Konstantin Petrovich Vlasov told The Associated Press that Abu Sisi was his doctoral student in civilian electricity systems at the Kharkiv National Academy of Municipal Services in the mid-1990s, but denies he was taught about weapons.

The indictment against him says Konstantin Petrovich, Abu Sisi’s professor at a civilian institute, also taught at an academy for military engineering in the eastern city of Kharkiv, although no such school exists.

The Israeli document claims the professor is an expert in Soviet-made Scud missile control systems. It alleges that Konstantin Petrovich arranged for Abu Sisi to attend classes at the military academy, where he gained knowledge that enabled him to modernize missiles launched by Palestinian militants into Israel.

Israel would not immediately comment on the incongruities concerning the professor’s name or the purported military academy.

Regarding Israel’s motivations for abducting Abu Sisi in Ukraine, The Electronic Intifada reported in March:

A few days after his disappearance, Abu Sisi’s wife, Veronika, a Ukrainian national, accused the Israeli spy agency Mossad of kidnapping him to extract information that could be used to disable Gaza’s power station in a future confrontation with the enclave’s Hamas rulers.

Israel bombed the plant during its three-week military assault, Operation Cast Lead, in winter 2008, causing blackouts across much of Gaza. Israel also targeted the power station in June 2006, cutting power to 700,000 Palestinians in Gaza for several months while it was fixed at a cost of more than $5 million.

Abu Sisi’s family suggested another reason why Israeli might consider him a high-value target. They say he had recently developed a method to reduce the plant’s dependency on high-grade diesel fuel, the flow of which Israel controls into Gaza.

In January Hamas officials announced that the station’s turbines had been modified to work on regular diesel, which is cheaper and can be smuggled in through tunnels from Egypt.

The Israeli media, on the other hand, have speculated that Abu Sisi must be a senior Hamas activist to have secured an important post at the plant. The family have denied the claim, saying he was not involved in any political faction and was appointed because of his skills as an engineer.

One of his Israeli lawyers, Smadar Ben Nathan, who met him for the first time at the court hearing on Sunday to lift the gag order, said she believed Israel had carried out the operation based on false information.

The Electronic Intifada correspondent Rami Almeghari interviewed Abu Sisi’s family in Gaza, meeting his children. Suzan Abu Sisi, the sister of Dirar, told The Electronic Intifada:

“I hold the Ukrainian authorities, topped by the president of Ukraine, responsible for the kidnapping of my brother by Israeli intelligence agents,” Suzan said. “How could such a kidnapping take place in a sovereign country?”


Maureen Clare Murphy

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Maureen Clare Murphy is senior editor of The Electronic Intifada.