The Nazareth District Court convened a preliminary hearing on Monday in the criminal case against Balad MK Said Nafa.

In December, the Northern District Attorney’s Office served an indictment in the Nazareth District Court charging Nafa with contacting terrorist organizations during an illegal trip to Syria. By law, Israelis may only visit enemy states if they receive permission from the interior minister.

During the short hearing, prosecuting attorneys Yael Kohavi and Raz Walther submitted an amended indictment detailing the organization Nafa is alleged to have met in Syria as the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine – General Command.

After Nafa’s attorneys did not raise objections to the amended indictment, Deputy Court President Tawfic Kteily, Judge Danny Sarfati and Judge Asher Kula ruled that Nafa will be formally arraigned on April 29.

According to the indictment filed in December, in 2007 Nafa arranged a trip to Syria for himself and 282 other Druse Israelis without government permission, where he allegedly met with leaders of the PFLP and tried to meet with Hamas chief Khaled Mashaal.

The indictment alleges that in July 2007 Nafa contacted the Interior Ministry to request travel permits to Syria for himself and a group of Druse Israelis, but the ministry refused the request, citing security concerns.

After that refusal, in September 2007 Nafa allegedly contacted a group of eight Druse clergymen and asked them to arrange for him to travel to Syria with a group of Druse religious leaders. Nafa received a list of the names of those wishing to travel to Syria, the indictment alleges, which included former Balad chairman and MK Azmi Bishara.

Bishara, who fled Israel in 2007, is wanted for questioning by police over suspicions that he aided and passed information to the enemy, including during the Second Lebanon War.

According to the indictment filed against Nafa, once in Jordan, he and Bishara allegedly obtained travel permits to Syria from the Syrian Embassy.

Nafa is alleged to have visited Syria between September 6 and 13, 2007.

Nafa is also charged in the indictment with contacting enemy agents and members of illegal terrorist groups during his stay in Syria. While in Damascus, Nafa allegedly met with a man named Nihad Malkhem, who arranged a meeting between him and Talal Naji, deputy secretarygeneral of the PFLP.

The indictment further charges that Nafa tried to secretly make contact with Mashaal during Nafa’s alleged meeting with Malkhem. Naji telephoned Mashaal, and arranged a meeting for the next morning. It is alleged that Naji referred to Mashaal by the nickname Abu al-Walid and told him that “a Balad party MK” would attend a meeting with him the next day. Naji also allegedly told Mashaal Nihad Malkhem’s name.

The indictment alleges that Nafa knew Mashaal’s nickname is Abu al-Walid and that he was interested in meeting the Hamas leader.

The next day, according to the indictment, a colleague of Mashaal’s came to Nafa’s hotel in Damascus and drove Nafa to meet Mashaal as planned.

Malkhem allegedly refused to accompany the pair, but the indictment charges that Nafa went to Mashaal’s office, where he received a gift.

The indictment against Nafa comes after Knesset’s House Committee denied Nafa’s request in January 2010 for parliamentary immunity from prosecution, a move that allowed state prosecutors to file charges against him.

That decision was made after then-attorney-general Menahem Mazuz announced in December 2009 that Nafa would be indicted for violating both the Penal Code and the Emergency Defense Regulations by visiting Syria without permission and for allegedly meeting with Naji and Mashaal.

Nafa, who denies meeting PFLP and Hamas members, slammed the indictment against him as “outrageous discrimination,” and said thousands of Israeli civilians have visited Syria without being indicted.

A separate indictment was filed in the Nazareth Magistrate’s Court, charging 16 other Israelis who allegedly accompanied Nafa on the trip with traveling to an enemy country, conspiracy to commit a crime and assisting with a visit to an enemy country.

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