Two Israelis and a Ukrainian were sentenced to life in prison by an Egyptian court on Monday, on charges of smuggling a machinegun and ammunition across the Israeli border into Egypt.
According to an Egyptian court source, the Ukrainian and one of the Israelis are in Egyptian custody, while the other defendant was tried in absentia.
The Ukrainian, Eduard Bablovich, and a Kafr Kara resident identified as Muad Zahalka, were sentenced at the Ismailia Criminal Court. They were held in custody since October 2011.
According to court records, Bablovich who was the manager of a tourism company in the Egyptian resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh, had ordered the weapon from one of the Israeli defendants.
Egyptian authorities say Zahalka brought the weapon into Egypt at the border at Taba in a cross-shaped wooden crate.
The machinegun and ammunition were discovered when the crate was placed on an explosives detection machine. The weapon was the sort used by police in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula, investigators said.
Zahalka denied knowing the contents of the crate, while Bablovich said he had ordered the weapon for personal protection, the court said.
Zahalka's family told Ynet that Muad was wrongly convicted after being duped by a monk from Bethlehem. They – like him – maintain that he thought he was transporting a boxful of crucifixes.
The family was shocked by the sentence: "We're very surprised by the court's decision. We're sure Muad had nothing to do with smuggling any weapons. He's a victim in this."
Another family member added: "This verdict is unfair. I think the Egyptian court was influenced by the security situation in Israel."
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