Kidnapped Palestinian engineer embarrasses Ukraine
Gazan engineer Dirar Abu Sisi was travelling by night train across the plains of eastern Ukraine when he was awoken by two men who identified themselves as officers of the local security service.
The train arrived in Kiev from Kharkiv without any further incident the next morning. But Abu Sisi, who studied in Ukraine as a youth, was no longer on board.
The next anyone heard of the 42-year-old, he was locked up in an Israeli prison, nearly a month of silence broken by confirmation that he was suspected of being a key cog in the rocket programme of militants from Hamas.
But how the father of six wound up in Israel and whether Ukraine -- which fed much of the Jewish state's Soviet-era immigration -- cooperated in a covert Israeli operation is a matter of debate, with officials mostly keeping silent.
Several former senior officials believe the Palestinian, who his sister said arrived from Egypt to gain Ukrainian citizenship, could not have landed in Israel's Shikma prison without the republic's SBU security service's help.
"This would have been impossible without the SBU," said former defence minister and current lawmaker Anatoli Grytsenko. "But I would like to hear a formal answer -- what precise part did they play."
And the country's former deputy interior minister Gennady Moskal said his sources report that Abu Sisi was snatched by Ukraine's interior ministry and handed over to Israeli secret service agents at Kiev's Boryspol airport.
"The biggest problem for us is that we put the lives of Ukrainians who live and work in Arab countries in danger," said Moskal, who is also a member of parliament.
"If this is true, they might just declare a jihad" again Ukraine, he added.
Yet Ukrainian officials admit to nothing, apparently sensitive to getting dragged into a conflict that could damage the country's standing in the Arab world.
"This is all nonsense," said interior ministry spokeswoman Viktoria Kushnir. "The police was not involved in Abu Sisi's abduction at any stage."
While its ties with the Jewish state have warmed dramatically in the past two decades, Ukraine was a place of study for many Arab students such as Abu Sisi in the Soviet era, when Moscow openly backed the Palestinian cause.
The Ukrainian foreign ministry at one point called in the Israeli ambassador to Kiev over the February 19 disappearance, and insisted it knew nothing about the Gaza engineer's fate.
Prime Minister Mykola Azarov also paid an official visit to Israel, one month later, when he held talks with counterpart Benjamin Netanyahu.
Earlier this week, the Palestinian was charged with hundreds of counts of attempted murder and making rockets that have been raining down with increasing intensity on southern Israel in recent weeks.
Germany's Der Spiegel magazine has also suggested that Israel thought he had valuable information about Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier seized by Gaza militants in 2006.
Hamas has denied that Abu Sisi had any connection with the organisation, although his Israeli lawyer told reporters that he had confessed to "certain things" that could not be elaborated due to a court-imposed ban.
The engineer's Ukrainian wife has accused the Israeli Mossad secret service of kidnapping an innocent man.
The incident has been seized by the opposition in Ukraine, a country with tumultuous politics where pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych wages endless battles with his more nationalist and Western-friendly foes.
"This can hardly improve Ukraine's image abroad," said current opposition member and former foreign minister Volodymyr Ogrizko.
"I do not see any benefit coming from this for Ukraine," added independent political analyst Valery Chaly.
"We are dealing with the safety of foreigners and the illegal work of secret services on the territory of other countries," he said.