Palestinian court jails U.S.-Palestinian for life for Jerusalem land sale

RAMALLAH, West Bank (Reuters) - A Palestinian court sentenced an American-Palestinian on Monday to life imprisonment for violating a ban on selling land to Israelis, judiciary officials said.

FILE PHOTO: A general view shows part of west Jerusalem December 5, 2017. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun/File Photo

The U.S. ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, called in November for dual national Issam Akel to be released, saying his suspected crime was “selling land to a Jew” and his incarceration violated American values.

Akel was accused of attempting to sell a property in Israeli-occupied East Jerusalem without the permission of his business partners or Palestinian authorities. Palestinian officials have not publicly identified the intended buyer.

The Higher Offences Court in Ramallah, in the occupied West Bank, convicted Akel of “attempting to sever parts of Palestinian land and annex it to a foreign state,” the judiciary media office said.

“In light of the conviction, the court handed down a life sentence with hard labor,” it said. Akel can appeal, a judiciary official said.

An official at the U.S. embassy said: “We are aware of reports that a U.S. citizen has been sentenced by a Palestinian court. When a U.S. citizen is incarcerated abroad, the U.S. government works to provide all appropriate consular assistance.”

Akel’s family, which denied the allegations against him, said it was unaware of the verdict or sentence.

Akel was detained on Oct. 10 in Ramallah, an Israeli security official said.

Palestinian law bars selling land to “a hostile state or any of its citizens”. It requires the permission of the Palestinian Authority, which exercises limited self-rule in the West Bank, for all land sales in East Jerusalem.

Israel captured the eastern part of Jerusalem in the 1967 Middle East war and annexed it in a move that has not won international recognition.

Land sales in the Palestinian territories, including East Jerusalem, are fraught for Palestinians, who see Israeli efforts to buy up land as part of a plot to cement control of occupied areas they seek for a state of their own.

Around 500,000 Israelis live in settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, which most countries consider a violation of international law against settling occupied land.

Reporting by Ali Sawafta and Nidal al-Mughrabi; Writing by Jeffrey Heller in Jerusalem; Editing by Robin Pomeroy