TEL AVIV, Israel (AP) — Israeli officials said Sunday the United Arab Emirates has pardoned an Israeli woman after initially sentencing her to death for drug possession, a case that tested the nascent ties between the two countries.
Fida Kiwan was arrested in early 2021 with half a kilogram (over 1 pound) of cocaine that she claimed did not belong to her, Israeli media reported. The UAE, which has harsh drug laws, later commuted the death sentence to life in prison.
Lior Haiat, a spokesman for Israel’s Foreign Ministry, said Kiwan had returned to Israel overnight Saturday after the pardon.
The office of Israel’s ceremonial president, Isaac Herzog, said the pardon came following a request by Herzog to UAE President Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, who agreed “as a gesture of good will,” to release her.
There was no immediate comment from officials in the UAE.
Kiwan’s arrest came shortly after Israel and the UAE normalized ties under U.S.-brokered agreements known as the Abraham Accords.
Ties between the countries have flourished since, with trade growing and Israeli tourists flocking in droves to glitzy Dubai.
According to Israeli media, Kiwan, who is said to own a photography studio in the northern Israeli city of Haifa, 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 United Arab Emirates maintains the death penalty for several offenses, including drug smuggling. However, executions remain rare in the federation of seven sheikhdoms, with the last death sentence carried out by firing squad in 2017 against a man convicted of abducting, raping and killing an 8-year-old boy.