Israel Frees Italian Protester Arrested in West Bank Attack

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JERUSALEM – Israel deported an Italian activist to Italy after security forces detained her during an attack in the West Bank, Israeli authorities said Tuesday, accusing her of having ties to a Palestinian militant group.

The Israeli army arrested Stefania Costantin during a pre-morning raid on Monday into the Deisha refugee camp in the Palestinian city of Bethlehem.

Photos shared on social media show an Israeli soldier picking up Costantini and carrying her over his shoulders as she screams. A group of soldiers drags her out of the camp and pushes her into a military vehicle, showing videos. Israeli forces shot dead a 14-year-old boy in the head during the same attack as they opened fire on Palestinians throwing rocks and Molotov cocktails.

Italian media described Costantini as an advocate for Palestinian rights. Israel’s Shin Bet security service said that Costantini was arrested on suspicion of being a member of, and transferring money to, the People’s Front for the Liberation of Palestine. The militant group, known as the PFLP, was involved in hijacking passenger planes in the 1960s and 1970s and later claimed responsibility for suicide attacks during the Second Intifada, or Palestinian uprising, early 2000s. It is considered a terrorist organization by the United States and the European Union.

The Shin Bet said Costantini arrived in Israel on May 2 last year on a tourist visa and was summoned for questioning last September about her alleged connection to the PFLP. Costantini did not report to the authorities “and even continued her activities” for the militant group, the security agency said. Israel deported her on Monday afternoon, the Interior Ministry said.

The leftist trade union COBAS in Pisa, Italy, to which Costantini belongs, expressed “concern” at the news of her arrest and deportation. The union said it is concerned about Costantini’s “health and safety”.

The group described Costantini as an expert working with students with disabilities who have long sought to “deny those who have rights.” Several months ago, the group said, Costantini left her life in Italy and moved to a Palestinian refugee camp. He made no mention of the Israeli security agency’s allegations.

The Italian consulate in Jerusalem did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The Israeli and Italian foreign ministries also did not comment.

But on Monday, the day Costantini was deported, Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen wrote on Twitter that he held a telephone conversation with his Italian counterpart. The reading of the proclamation focused on the countries’ joint efforts to “fight against terrorism” and to promote their “political cooperation.” He made no mention of the Costantini case.

Israel has stepped up its fight in recent years against Palestinian activists and rights groups. Last summer, the Israeli military raided and shut down the offices of Palestinian human rights groups they labeled terrorist groups over their alleged links to the PFLP. Nine European countries have rejected Israel’s accusations against rights groups, citing a lack of evidence.

Associate news writer Colleen Barry in Milan contributed to this report.

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