Arab Israeli jailed for joining Syria rebels

An Arab Israeli was sent to jail on Monday for more than two years for going to Syria where he joined rebels battling against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.

Hikmat Massarwa, from Taibe village in Galilee, was given 30 months in prison by Lod District Court as part of a plea bargain in which he admitted contacts with an enemy agent, illegally leaving the country and infiltration.

Israel is technically at war with Syria and it is illegal for its citizens to travel there.

Massarwa, born in 1984, was arrested on March 19 after returning from Syria, where he underwent military training with the rebels, the Shin Bet domestic security agency said in April.

A Shin Bet statement said: "Massarwa went to Syria with the aim of joining world jihad elements who are working against the Syrian army" and had military training at a rebel camp he helped set up.

The original indictment included the charge of undergoing military training, which was removed in the plea bargain.

Massarwa told investigators that he went to Syria to look for his brother, who was fighting there, Monday's ruling read.

The Shin Bet noted that Massarwa was approached by rebel forces to "carry out a suicide attack against the forces of the Assad regime, but he says he refused to do it".

"The General Security Services (Shin Bet) sees Arab Israelis going to Syria as a very dangerous phenomenon," the agency said.

A Shin Bet spokeswoman said at the time that there had been only isolated incidents of Arab Israelis going to Syria.

Israel shares an 80-kilometre (50-mile) frontier line with Syria, which cuts across the Golan Heights plateau.

Fighting from the more than two-year civil war occasionally spills over into the Israeli-controlled sector, which was seized during the 1967 Six-Day War.

Israel's defence establishment closely monitors the ceasefire line out of concern that jihadist elements among the rebels fighting Assad's regime could attack the Jewish state.