Palestinian security forces who last week detained an Arabic newspaper editor for disobeying orders to put a story in praise of Yasser Arafat on the front page, have struck again.
On Tuesday night they seized Bassam Eid, a leading Arab human rights activist, from his home in an East Jerusalem refugee camp. Last night Palestinian spokesmen denied all knowledge of his whereabouts.
Mr Eid, 36, the father of eight children, made his name as a fearless field worker for the Israeli human rights organisation B'tselem. Throughout the seven years of the intifada, he was responsible for reports highlighting Israeli human rights violations. Since the Oslo peace agreement in September 1993, he has focused on abuses by the Palestinian security services.
Yesterday Mr Eid was allowed to telephone B'tselem. He said he had been detained by Force 17, Mr Arafat's elite personal guard, and taken to Ramallah, 18 miles north of Jerusalem, which reverted to Palestinian rule last week.
By last night, nothing more had been heard of him. A spokesman for the Palestinian National Authority denied that Force 17 was responsible, and blamed the arrest on "uncontrolled elements".
Mr Eid's latest dossier, published last August, listed dozens of cases in which the Palestinian Preventive Security Service kidnapped and torturedPalestinians living in areas still controlled by Israel. Last week he condemned the arrest of the Palestinian editor, Maher Alami, who was released after six days: "It shows that Yasser Arafat doesn't care about the freedom of the press."
He has also worked with a team from the Paris-based media defence group Reporters Sans Frontieres (RSF), which is monitoring the 20 January Palestinian legislative elections. Last weekend they criticised public-sector Palestinian radio and television for denying opposition candidates a fair share of their campaign coverage.
The human rights activist has frequently been threatened by both Israelis and Palestinians, but this is the first time he has been taken into custody. Yizhar Be'er, B'tselem's executive director, said: "We are very concerned about Palestinian respect for human rights. We hold the Palestinian authorities responsible for Bassam's safety and for his early release. His arrest is entirely unacceptable."
Thierry Cruvellier, head of the RSF monitoring team, protested to Mr Arafat. "We have been trying all day to get more information on where he is detained and when he will be released," he said. "But so far we have heard nothing more." Mr Cruvellier suspected the arrest was linked to Mr Eid's censure of the editor's detention.
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