The Israel Prisons Service (IPS) confirmed on Tuesday that it was holding a Saudi Arabian national who was caught close to a year ago illegally residing in Israel.
According to IPS officials, the prisoner - identified as Abdel Rahman El-Attawi - did not want to return to Saudi Arabia where he told prison guards he could face the death penalty.
El-Attawi, IPS officials said, was not held on terror-related charges.
Earlier in the day, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud announced that his country was in touch with international agencies to obtain el-Attawi's release from an Israeli prison. "We're discussing with all international organizations, (including) the United Nations, the Red Cross, the Red Crescent to see what we can do," he said.
But since Israel did not have diplomatic relations with Saudi Arabia, the prisoner, one IPS official said, could not be returned to his home country and needed to first be deported to a neutral third state or be granted asylum in Israel. Turkey, Greece, Finland and Jordan had already refused to accept el-Attawi, but the official said, the UN and the Red Cross were at work to find another country.
El-Attawi, the official said, launched a hunger strike several months ago and IPS doctors decided last week to force-feed him after his health deteriorated.