RAMLA, (AFP) – Hardline Islamist leader Sheikh Raed Salah on Sunday began serving five months behind bars after being convicted of spitting at an Israeli policeman during a protest in east Jerusalem.
Around 200 supporters of the Israeli Arab leader, who heads the radical wing of the Islamic Movement, accompanied him to a prison in Ramla near Tel Aviv, waving the movement’s green flag as well as Palestinian flags, an AFP reporter said.
Salah was convicted of assault for an incident that took place in February 2007 during a demonstration in annexed Arab east Jerusalem, in which court documents said he insulted a border policeman and spat in his face.
Earlier this month, a Jerusalem court reduced his sentence from nine months to five.
The assault, which Salah has always denied, took place during a protest outside the Dung Gate in the southern wall of the Old City where the Israeli authorities were carrying out restoration work near the flashpoint Al-Aqsa mosque compound.
The compound is the third holiest site for Muslims and the holiest site for Jews, who refer to it as the Temple Mount. It has been the scene of several outbreaks of violence over the course of the decades-old Israeli-Arab conflict.
Salah has been detained on a number of occasions, most recently after taking part in a Gaza-bound aid flotilla stormed on May 31 by Israeli naval commandos in an operation which left nine Turkish activists dead.
Israel’s Arab community numbers 1.3 million, about 20 percent of the population. It is made up of descendants of the 160,000 Palestinians who remained in Israel after the 1948 establishment of the Jewish state.