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Prisoners to face trial

by: Hanan Greenberg, Ynetnews - Last updated: 2006-03-15

Six senior Palestinian prisoners captured by Israel following a nine-hour siege of a Jericho prison on Tuesday will be handed over to Israel's security service Shin Bet for interrogation and will later face trial before an Israeli court.

The six, including five top detainees allegedly behind the murder of Israeli Tourism Minister Rehavam Zeevi, are expected to face indictments in the near future. The State Prosecutor's Office will be drafting the indictments in a quick procedure, mostly as a result of the intimate familiarity with the offences committed by the terrorists, headed by Popular Front Secretary General Ahmad Saadat.

Some suspects have already been questioned shortly after their capture by Shin Bet agents. Prisoners who did not appear on Israel's wanted list were released on the spot. The interrogation of the six senior prisoners, however, is expected to last several days and possibility weeks.

At this time it is unclear whether the six will be tried before a military or a civilian court. All six are not citizens of Israel and in similar cases indictments are usually served before military courts. However, in some cases Palestinian terrorists were tried before civilian courts, most notably in the case of jailed Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti, who was tried at the Tel Aviv District Court.

The objective inherent in holding trials at civilian courts is to dismiss claims that trial results were predetermined. Moreover, civilian court proceedings are open to the media, further nullifying claims about unfair trials.

Meanwhile, Israel Defence Forces (IDF) officials said one of the main reasons behind the Jericho operation's success was the quick takeover by troops, who were able to gain control of the prison compound minutes after British prison guards left the site. The quick reaction was made possible in light of intense monitoring efforts undertaken by Israel in recent days and the realization the British prison wardens may leave at any moment.

A senior Central Command officer confirmed that unless IDF troops were able to surround the compound within a short period of time, wanted terror suspects may have been able to escape. As a result, troops have been preparing for the operation in recent days and were quick to move in once the signal was given.

"Shortly after six pm, an IDF engineering vehicle hit one of the walls in the room where the six (top detainees) huddled together with several other prisoners," one military official told Ynet. "The strike against the wall was clearly felt in the room, and then they realized that if they don't get out with their hands up, they won't be coming out alive. From that point, the surrender procedure began."

The IDF said that Minister Zeevi's murder was planned by Saadat and Ahed Ghulma, the commander of the Popular Front's military wing in the West Bank. The two, along with the three-member murder cell were jailed in Jericho in May 2002. The same year, top terror financier Fuad Shubaki was also imprisoned in the West Bank town. Shubaki was behind large-scale arms smuggling operations to the PA and was the mastermind behind the Karin-A weapons freighter, intercepted by special IDF forces.

Reproduced with permission: Ynetnews