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UAE drops death sentence for Israeli woman in drug case

June 28, 2022 GMT

JERUSALEM (AP) — The United Arab Emirates has canceled a death sentence issued earlier this year to an Israeli woman who was convicted of cocaine possession, her lawyer said Tuesday.

The case was a potential test of ties between the two countries, which normalized relations in 2020, in the first of the so-called Abraham Accords between Israel and four Arab countries brokered by the Trump administration.

Fida Kiwan, a 43-year-old resident of the northern Israeli city of Haifa, was sentenced in April. The Israeli news site Ynet said at the time that Kiwan was arrested on March 21, 2021, with half a kilogram (over 1 pound) of cocaine that she claimed did not belong to her.

Mordechai Tzivin, an Israeli lawyer representing her, confirmed that the death sentence was dropped on appeal. She still faces a potentially lengthy prison sentence.

Tzivin said the legal system in the UAE is “built on the foundations of justice, honesty and compassion,” and expressed hope that that would be reflected as the case proceeds.

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Israel’s Foreign Ministry welcomed the ruling, saying it was “pleased that the efforts on the legal channels as well as other channels led to the cancellation of the death sentence.”

The ministry had earlier said it was following the case through its consular department and representatives in the UAE.

There was no comment from Emirati authorities.

Normalization has turned glitzy Dubai into a freewheeling Israeli tourist destination. Israel’s top leaders, including Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, have met with their counterparts in the Gulf state, and the UAE was part of an unprecedented meeting of Arab and Israeli foreign ministers in Israel’s Negev desert earlier this year.

Israeli media reported that Kiwan came to Dubai for work at the invitation of a Palestinian acquaintance. She was arrested a short while later after a search of her apartment turned up the drugs.

The UAE is one of the world’s most restrictive nations when it comes to people importing and possessing drugs, including substances for personal use like cannabis and even over-the-counter medications like narcotics.

Trafficking typically carries a life sentence and possession a shorter jail sentence. While UAE law allows for the death penalty in certain cases, capital punishment is rarely carried out. The last known executions were in 2011 and 2014, against two men convicted of murder.