Controversial Catholic priest who supplied arms to Palestinian militants dies age 94 in Rome

One time head of the Greek Catholic Church in Jerusalem, Archbishop Hilarion Capucci, rose to prominence after being arrested for smuggling rifles and dynamite in his Mercedes Sedan 

Wednesday 04 January 2017 15:40 GMT
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Archbishop Hilarion Capucci, with both Algerian (R) and Palestinian (L) flags on his outfit, smiles during an international Arab conference in support of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails on December 5, 2010 in Algiers
Archbishop Hilarion Capucci, with both Algerian (R) and Palestinian (L) flags on his outfit, smiles during an international Arab conference in support of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails on December 5, 2010 in Algiers (AFP/Getty)

A Syrian Catholic Archbishop who became a major figure in the armed Palestinian freedom movement has died at the age of 94 in Rome.

Archbishop Hilarion Capucci’s death at was confirmed by the Vatican and the Greek Melkite Catholic Church on Tuesday, although neither body provided further details.

The Aleppo-born cleric was made prelate of the small Greek Catholic community in Jerusalem in 1965.

He first made headlines in 1974 when he was arrested for returning from a trip to Lebanon with a car stuffed full of dynamite, Kalashnikov rifles, detonators, televisions and whisky destined for Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) fighters.

He was sentenced to 12 years in Israeli prison in 1974 for using his diplomatic immunity to smuggle goods, and alleged involvement in other terrorist plots.

After three years he was released thanks to a formal humanitarian request to end Capucci’s incarceration made by Pope Paul VI, who noted the archbishop’s declining health after several hunger strikes.

Although he was not allowed to return to Israel or the Palestinian Territories, Capucci remained active in Middle Eastern politics. He protested for the freedom of foreign nationals taken hostage by Saddam Hussein’s government, against sanctions that affected normal Iraqis, and in his eighties took part in two flotillas trying to break the Gaza blockade.

In an interview in 2000 after returning from an anti-sanctions delegation trip to Baghdad, Capucci told reporters that the two nations suffering most in the Middle East were "the Iraqis because of sanctions and the Palestinian people, who are fighting for their dignity."

On the news of his death President of the Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas praised Archbishop Capucci for “defending the rights of the Palestinian people.”

The official Palestinian Wafa news agency quoted a PA spokesperson who described Capucci as a “martyr” and a “brave fighter.”

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