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Czech police find weapons at Palestinian mission

by Jan Lopatka, Reuters

January 2, 2014 | 10:17 am

An investigator works at the site of an explosion in Prague on  Jan. 1. Photo by David W Cerny/Reuters

An investigator works at the site of an explosion in Prague on Jan. 1. Photo by David W Cerny/Reuters

Czech investigators found unregistered weapons at the Palestinian diplomatic mission in Prague, police said on Thursday, a day after the ambassador was killed in a mysterious explosion after opening a safe.

"We have gathered many pieces of evidence, we secured weapons that will be subject to expert evaluation," Prague police chief Martin Vondrasek said on Czech Radio.

"We can say the weapons have not gone through a registration process in the Czech Republic," he said, without revealing the quantity and type.

Police reiterated they believed the blast that killed ambassador Jamal al-Jamal on New Year's Day may have been caused by mishandling an explosive that could have been securing the safe. They have said they are not treating it as an attack or a terrorist incident.

Jamal suffered lethal injuries to his head, chest and abdomen. He had been in Prague only since October.

Embassy spokesman Nabil el-Fahel said the safe was being used on a daily basis to store cash for the mission.

The mission is in the process of moving into a new embassy and residence, which share the same compound. Jamal was killed at the new residence.

Fahel's account contradicted Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Malki, who said the safe had not been used for two decades or more, possibly going back to the time when the Palestine Liberation Organisation maintained a mission in Prague.

STAFF UNAWARE

Some safes can be fitted with small charges to destroy secret documents in the event of the lock being tampered with. But Fahel said embassy staff were not aware that any explosive mechanism was attached to the safe that Jamal opened.

He later said on Czech Television he had no information on weapons being seized by police. But a Palestinian official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Reuters that the mission's staff in Prague had submitted the weapons to Czech authorities.

He did not elaborate on the type of weapons involved, but said they had been retrieved from an old sack and had been untouched since Cold War times.

The Vienna Convention, which covers diplomatic relations between states, does not set out arrangements for diplomats holding weapons.

The Czech Foreign Ministry said diplomats' weapons were subject to local laws on arms, which require registration and licensing. This suggests that if the weapons were unregistered, they were illegal.

The ministry said it was not changing its position on the Palestinian mission in the country. "We can hardly draw any conclusions from partial results and findings," spokeswoman Johana Grohova said.

Communist Czechoslovakia maintained friendly relations with the PLO in the 1980s, but the Czech Republic, an EU and NATO member country, has been supportive of Israel.

Reporting by Jan Lopatka; Additional reporting by Ali Sawafta; Editing by Mark Trevelyan

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