Professor accuses PA of car torching

Palestinian professor Abdel Sattar Kassem on Thursday accused the Palestinian Authority's security forces of being behind the torching of his car in Nablus.

Kassem, who has been waging a public campaign against corruption in the PA for many years, teaches political science at An-Najah University.

Unidentified arsonists set fire to his car on Wednesday morning while it was parked outside his apartment in the Rafidiyah neighborhood of Nablus. The attack came days after the professor issued a statement accusing the PA security forces of unjustly detaining members of Hamas and Islamic Jihad. He also accused the security services of mistreating the detainees.

"The purpose of this attack is to destroy us from within," Kassem said, referring to the torching of his car. "Those who tried to assassinate me several years ago are also behind this attack."

Kassem escaped an attempt on his life in 1995 when a gunman opened fire at him as he was about to enter his house late at night. The professor, who was wounded in the incident, then accused the PA security forces in Nablus of being behind the assassination attempt.

The attack came shortly after Kassem and 28 prominent academics and human rights activists signed a petition condemning corruption and calling for reforms and democracy in the PA.

Kassem, who is closely associated with Hamas and Islamic Jihad, surprised Palestinians several years ago by announcing his intention to challenge Yasser Arafat in the presidential election. After Arafat's death, he once again decided to run as an independent candidate, but dropped out of the race a few weeks before the January 9 vote.

Between 1996 and 2000, Kassem was arrested three times by the PA security forces.

Although he was never formally charged with any offense, it was widely believed that he had been detained for publicly criticizing Arafat and senior PA officials suspected of financial embezzlement.

"The torching of Kassem's car shows that someone is trying to silence the voice of honorable men," said Nidal Hamad, a member of the Palestinian Writers' Association. "They want to break the determination of these honorable men to force them to change their positions through intimidation and terror."