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Israeli Police Briefly Detain Peace Activist Nusseibeh - 2004-04-28

Israeli police have arrested and briefly detained prominent Palestinian peace activist Sari Nusseibeh, the president of al-Quds University in Jerusalem. Mr. Nusseibeh was charged with hiring undocumented workers at the university.

Jerusalem police said a routine patrol stopped at the university to check documentation of workers they believed were employed at the school illegally. They say they arrested Mr. Nusseibeh, who is a Palestinian with an Israeli residency permit, when he told the officers that he was responsible for the workers they had come to question.

Mr. Nusseibeh was taken into custody and driven to the police detention center in the northern part of the city, where he was held for several hours before being released on bail.

Yossi Sarid, of Israel's liberal Yahad Party and a member of the Israeli parliament, demanded the immediate release of Mr. Nusseibeh whom he described as a symbol of moderation. He suggested that police singled him out for harsher treatment than any Jewish citizen would have gotten for hiring illegal residents.

Mr. Sarid said that even if Mr. Nusseibeh employed illegal residents, that was not justification for detaining him.

Jerusalem police spokesman Gil Kleiman told Israel Radio that Mr. Nusseibeh was treated the same way any other person suspected of the same offense would be treated.

?We make no distinction, I want this to be very clear, there is no distinction and I hope there is no distinction as far as suspects are concerned, and that all suspects are treated in the same way regardless of whether they are politically famous or not politically famous. It is the commission of an offense,? Mr. Kleiman said. ?A policeman has to detain them, question them, and when the questioning is done they are allowed to meet with their lawyer.?

Sari Nusseibeh and Ami Ayalon, the former chief of Israel's Shin Bet security service, have put together a peace plan known as the People's Voice that has gained international support. U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan has endorsed it. The fact that U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell met with the two men last year for a briefing on their plan is seen as an indication that Washington has a favorable view of the initiative.

The Nusseibeh-Ayalon Peoples Voice plan has collected the signatures of tens of thousands of Israelis and Palestinians, but the Israeli government opposes it and other such unofficial peace initiatives.