A top Palestinian official mired in a sex scandal brushed aside allegations he traded his influence for sexual favours, saying Sunday he was the victim of entrapment and blackmail.
The high-ranking official, Rafiq Husseini, responded to the scandal hours after Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas suspended him from his duties as chief of staff. Abbas also ordered a three-member committee to investigate the affair and submit its findings within three weeks.
The scandal erupted last week when Israeli TV broadcast video of Husseini undressing, getting into bed and calling a woman to join him. The footage was secretly taped in 2008 by a former Palestinian intelligence officer, Fahmi Shabaneh, with the collusion of the woman. Shabaneh alleged that Husseini attempted to trade influence for sex.
Shabaneh has said he presented the tape and alleged evidence of financial corruption by senior government officials to Abbas, but was ignored. After the tape was broadcast, Palestinian Authority officials accused Shabaneh of collaborating with Israel and trying to discredit Abbas.
On Sunday, Husseini told a news conference that he was the victim of a conspiracy aimed at deterring him from fighting for Palestinian rights in Jerusalem. The Palestinians seek east Jerusalem as a future capital, and complain that Israel is cementing its control there with expanding settlements and other measures.
"I was ambushed by a gang that works for Israeli intelligence," Husseini said. "This gang used the tape to blackmail me financially and politically, which means that I (should) abandon my work in Jerusalem and leave the homeland. I did not submit to it."
He suggested the tape was heavily edited, and said he informed Abbas of the incident shortly after it happened.
Shabaneh has also alleged that he has documents proving that some members of Abbas' inner circle stole millions of dollars in public funds, but has sidestepped repeated requests to present the documents for closer inspection. Israel's Channel 10 TV said it has some of the documents in its possession, but has only provided general descriptions.
Even though the Palestinian Authority has won international praise for cleaning up official corruption that was rampant under the late Yasser Arafat, Abbas' Fatah movement continues to be dogged by the perception that some of its leading officials pursue personal gain and pleasure over the national good.