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(photo credit: AP [file])
The body of an Arab resident of Jerusalem who had been accused of selling his apartment to Jews was found on Thursday morning in Jericho.
Fatah gunmen claimed responsibility for the murder.
The victim was identified as Muhammad Abu al-Hawa, 42, a father of eight from A-Tur on the Mount of Olives.
Palestinian Authority security officials said he had been shot seven times in the head and chest. They added that Abu al-Hawa had also been brutally tortured before his car was set on fire.
PA policemen discovered his torched body early Thursday morning. They later handed the body over to the Israel Police, which delivered it to the L. Greenberg Forensics Institute at Abu Kabir for an autopsy.
Abu al-Hawa's relatives said he was last seen on Wednesday night. It was unclear whether he went to Jericho willingly or had been kidnapped. His family was informed early Thursday morning that the body had been delivered to the police station in Ma'aleh Adumim. Several members of the Abu al-Hawa clan, whose members have been living on the Mount of Olives for many generations, were questioned in connection with the murder.
The victim's family was one of two families which recently sold three strategically located apartments overlooking the Temple Mount and the Old City.
The apartments were purchased through Elad, a nonprofit organization that has been buying homes in east Jerusalem for Jewish families and companies. Elad was also responsible for settling scores of Jewish families in the City of David in Silwan, a few hundred meters away from the Western Wall.
The purchase of the three apartments in A-Tur drew fierce protests from Arab residents. Over the past few weeks, residents have clashed repeatedly with the police and members of a private security firm hired to guard the apartments. It was the first time that Jews had moved into A-Tur.
Immediately after the deal became public, some members of the Abu al-Hawa clan were either kidnapped or summoned by PA security forces to Ramallah and Jericho for questioning.
Earlier this month, dozens of protesters torched a restaurant owned by a member of the clan in the neighborhood.
In an attempt to "clear" their name, the family published several advertisements in Arab newspapers denying that any of its members had sold property to Jews. The family, however, revealed that at least one of the apartments was sold to an Arab resident of Jerusalem, who apparently sold the property to a Jordanian company called Loyal Investment.
The victim's brother, Mahmoud, claimed that Jews who visited him several weeks ago offered him $300,000 in cash for his apartment. He said he immediately rejected the offer, but was then shown a contract showing that the apartment had already been sold. He said the contract carried his mother's forged signature.
The apartments, which are part of a four-story building, are located near the Seven Arches Hotel, which was previously known as the Intercontinental.
Relatives of the victim said on Thursday that it was not clear if he was aware that his apartment would be sold to Jews. "He could have been an innocent victim," said Ahmed Abu al-Hawa, a taxi driver who lives near the victim's home. "I believe that those who sold the house to Jews are not in the country."
Several Arabs have been murdered for allegedly selling their homes to Jews, and the PA has banned such sales. In 1996, at least seven Arabs were kidnapped and murdered on suspicion that they had been involved in real estate transactions with Jews. The law punishing by death those who sell land to Jews was endorsed by the PA on the basis of a Jordanian law that had been in effect until the eve of the Six Day War in 1967.
In 1995, the Palestinian Legislative council voted unanimously in favor of the death sentence for land brokers who sell lands to Jews. Former PA justice minister Freih Abu Medein announced that the death sentence would be applied to land sellers based on the Jordanian law which was authorized as PA law.
The PA mufti of Jerusalem, Sheikh Ikremah Sabri, announced a fatwa in the same year authorizing the killing of any Arab who sells property to Jews. The fatwa also forbids Muslims from burying the perpetrators in Muslim cemeteries.
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