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Israeli ex-MP gets jail for smuggling phones to inmates

© AFP/File | Arab-Israeli Knesset member Basel Ghattas is seen on January 18, 2017, has been sentenced to two years in jail after he pleaded guilty to smuggling mobile phones to Palestinian prisoner

JERUSALEM (AFP) - 

An Israeli court Sunday sentenced an Arab Israeli former MP to two years in jail after he pleaded guilty to smuggling mobile phones to Palestinian prisoners, a court transcript showed.

Basel Ghattas, of the Arab-dominated Joint List, resigned his seat in the Israeli parliament as part of a plea bargain reached last month in which he admitted handing the phones and SIM cards to Palestinian inmates.

The prosecution dropped charges of terrorism and endangering state security for which he could have faced up to 10 years in prison.

In addition to the reduced sentence of 24 months he was fined 120,000 shekels, ($33,300, 30,800 euros) according to the transcript released by the justice ministry.

It said the court, in the southern city of Beersheba, also ruled that Ghattas's offence constituted what is known in Israeli law as "moral turpitude", meaning he is barred from standing for parliament for seven years after his prison term ends.

His lawyers have 45 days to appeal.

The court ordered the 60-year-old Christian to begin serving his sentence at Dekel prison in Beersheba on July 2, granting his request not to be jailed until the end of the Islamic fasting month of Ramadan as he will be confined with Muslim prisoners.

Israeli media have reported that 12 mobile phones were found on two separate prisoners in searches after Ghattas visited the high security Ketziot prison in December, using his parliamentary immunity to avoid being searched.

One of the prisoners is serving time for kidnapping and murdering an Israeli soldier in 1984, the Ynet news website said.

Ghattas has said his actions were motivated by "humanitarian and moral positions towards prisoners".

Lawmakers of the Joint List, the third largest bloc in parliament with 13 seats, frequently clash with Israeli authorities.

Arab Israelis make up some 17.5 percent of the country's population and are descended from Palestinians who remained on their land after the creation of Israel in 1948.

They hold Israeli citizenship but most see themselves as Palestinians.

Ghattas's party, Balad, is especially critical of Israeli policies.

Its three lawmakers triggered outrage among Jewish Israelis last year when they met relatives of Palestinians who authorities say were killed while carrying out attacks.

© 2017 AFP