Friday, 8 December 2000

Palestinian sentenced to death for spying

Friday, December 8, 2000

By Matthew Kalman

NABLUS, WEST BANK -- A Palestinian labourer was sentenced to death yesterday after he was convicted of spying for Israel and aiding the assassination last week of a leader of the radical anti-Israeli organization Hamas.

The trial of Alan Bani Odeh, 25, in a Palestinian court yesterday lasted just 90 minutes. The three-judge panel concluded that he supplied a booby-trapped car to his cousin, Ibrahim Bani Odeh, 34, acknowledged by Hamas as a senior commander of its military wing, which has carried out numerous attacks on Israeli targets.

The prosecutor said the driver's seat of the car had been rigged with an explosive device by Israeli secret-service agents. The bomb was detonated as Ibrahim Bani Odeh was driving through Nablus.

As the verdict and sentence were read out, the crowd inside the court applauded and chanted "Allahu Akbar!" (God is great.)

The bearded defendant, surrounded by six police officers, admitted that he had been in contact with Israel's Shin Bet secret service, but denied any prior knowledge of his cousin's assassination.

Ibrahim Bani Odeh had been in a Palestinian jail for two years as part of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's crackdown on Hamas cells in the West Bank. He was released just days before his death, along with dozens of other Islamic extremists held by the Palestinian Authority.

Palestinian officials say Alan Bani Odeh fled to Israel after the assassination but was arrested by agents of the Palestinian Preventive Security force and returned to Nablus.

Israeli officials have denied any connection to either man or to the assassination. They did not protest against the apparent abduction of the defendant from Israel, a breach of the Oslo peace accords.

Several other Palestinian radicals have died in similar circumstances recently. Hussein Abayat, commander of a Bethlehem militia belonging to Mr. Arafat's mainstream Fatah group, was killed last month when a laser-guided missile from an Israeli helicopter hit his car.

Alan Bani Odeh is the first Palestinian to be sentenced to death by a Palestinian court on charges of collaborating with Israel. However, several Palestinians suspected of assisting Israel have been killed or kidnapped in recent weeks by Palestinian police and activists.

Thirty-one Palestinians have been sentenced to death by Palestinian courts since the establishment of the Palestinian authority in 1994. Three have been executed.

Hamas welcomed the quick trial and death sentence yesterday. "This will deter other criminals from collaborating with the Zionist enemy," it said in a statement.

But Israeli lawyer Nitsana Darshan-Leitner, whose offer to defend Alan Bani Odeh was rebuffed, said: "This kangaroo court which tried and sentenced Mr. Bani Odeh to death in less than two hours reveals the true face of Palestinian justice. It is an unthinkable affront to the norms of international justice."

Ms. Darshan-Leitner is the lawyer who acted for Daniel Weiz, the Israeli soldier extradited to Canada in October and charged with the murder of Matti Baranovski.

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