BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) — Serbia has granted citizenship to a key political rival of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas after he pledged millions of dollars in investments from the Emirates, where he has lived in exile, Serbian officials said Sunday.
Serbia's Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic said that former Fatah party strongman Mohammed Dahlan, whom Abbas fired in a power struggle, was given the citizenship in 2013. His wife, four children, a relative and five Palestinian supporters were also given Serbian passports.
The 53-year-old Dahlan, a former Abbas' aide and Gaza security chief, was once seen as Yasser Arafat's heir apparent. He was kicked out of Fatah in 2011 after Abbas accused him of corruption and hinted he may have been involved in Arafat's death.
Dahlan was sentenced in absentia by a West Bank court to two years jail in 2014 on defamation and slander charges because he alleged in an interview that Palestinian security forces help protect Israeli settlers in the occupied territories.
Dahlan later said in a statement that the ruling was politically motivated and was meant to block him from competing in internal elections in Abbas' Fatah movement and in future general elections.
Dahlan, who turned into a businessman in exile, has promised millions of dollars of investments from the Emirates to Serbia. The Balkan country's government can secretly grant citizenships to foreigners when it sees the individuals can serve special state interests.
Dacic said that Dahlan was not given the citizenship on political grounds, but due to the economic relations with the Emirates.
"When Dahlan was in Serbia, we spoke only about relations with the United Arab Emirates," Dacic said. "Internal Palestinian issues were not on the agenda."
In December, thousands of Dahlan supporters protested against Abbas in the Gaza Strip amid reports that corruption charges involving millions of dollars will be filed against the former security chief.