Monday, 15 January 2001

Palestinians warn of more executions

Arafat urged to commute further sentences after 'collaborators' killed by firing squad

The Globe and Mail,
Monday, January 15, 2001

By Matthew Kalman

JERUSALEM -- Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat is under pressure to commute two planned executions after an outcry over the deaths by firing squad of two Palestinian men on Saturday.

All four were accused of collaborating with Israeli forces to assassinate terrorist leaders in recent weeks. The men were all convicted in lightning trials by Palestinian security courts, whose rulings cannot be appealed and whose proceedings have been condemned by human-rights groups.

Alan Bani Odeh, 25, was executed by a Palestinian police firing squad as a chanting crowd of 5,000 gathered outside a police station in Nablus Saturday morning. Majdi Mikkawi, 28, was shot at the same time in Gaza.

Palestinian Justice Minister Freih Abu Medein said two more men sentenced to death on Saturday would also be executed this week, and a dozen more would follow. The condemned men's only recourse now is Mr. Arafat, who must approve all executions.

"Anyone we lay our hands on will not merit the mercy of the Palestinian people or the mercy of Palestinian law. Palestinian blood is pure blood and may not be spilled by agents," Mr. Abu Medein said.

But the head of a human-rights group suggested actions may not follow such tough talk. "I don't believe the Palestinian Authority is going to execute any more, at least in the coming weeks," said Bassem Eid, director of the Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group.

"There is a big fight against collaborators but the Palestinian Authority has to consider international pressure," Mr. Eid said. "The coverage has affected the reputation of the Palestinian Authority and its justice system."

Mr. Eid said it was the duty of foreign governments who donate aid to the PA to monitor events in the Palestinian areas and ensure democratic rights. The executions were only the fourth and fifth death penalties carried out in the more than six years of the Palestinian Authority.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak joined in criticism of the executions yesterday, which Israeli media featured prominently.

"It is regrettable that the Palestinian Authority, which aspires to be a recognized entity, has recourse to show trials that recall dark periods of history," Mr. Barak said in a statement.

The Israeli human-rights group B'Tselem, which has also criticized Israeli policies, condemned the executions, saying: "The fact that in these cases the defendants were not accorded a fair trial, had no effective opportunity to defend themselves and no opportunity to appeal makes these executions especially grave."

Mr. Bani Odeh was found guilty last month of helping Israeli agents assassinate Ibrahim Bani Odeh, a distant relative and a leader of the Hamas terror group. The court found he supplied a car to Ibrahim Bani Odeh, which had a bomb hidden in the headrest of the driver's seat. It was detonated as the Hamas leader drove through Nablus, killing him instantly. Mr. Bani Odeh admitted meeting Israeli agents, but said he did not know the car was rigged when he agreed to lend it to his relative.

On Saturday morning, as a huge crowd gathered outside the gates of the police station in Nablus, Mr. Bani Odeh was permitted a final meeting with his mother, wife and two small daughters.

After 15 minutes, his wife, Siham, emerged in tears, cradling their infant daughter in her arms. "He swore to me that he is innocent," she said. "He never knew they were planning to kill Ibrahim. He asked me to look after the children and he asked his mother to take care of all of us."

Several hundred people from the crowd were allowed into the police station's courtyard to witness the execution. At 11 a.m., Mr. Bani Odeh was taken to the courtyard, tied to a pole and blindfolded. As he stood there, his brother walked up to him and said "Allah yisamhak" (May God forgive you). He was executed by a squad of six hooded police officers.

Among the onlookers was Ibrahim Bani Odeh's widow, Rakiyeh. "I thank President Arafat for bringing justice," she said. We are very happy today to see that this traitor, who helped kill my husband, is being punished."

The second man, Mr. Mikkawi, was found guilty of giving Israel information that led to the Nov. 22 killing of four Fatah members, one of them his uncle, Jamal Abdel-Razek. Mr. Mikkawi was executed in Gaza. No members of the public witnessed his death, but it was videotaped and broadcast yesterday on Israeli television.

Hours after the executions, four men suspected of collaborating with Israel were tried by a PA security court in Bethlehem for their alleged role in the death of Fatah militia leader Hussein Abayat, who was killed in an Israeli rocket attack in November. Two of the men, Mohammad Deifallah Khatib and Husam Deen Moussa Hmeid, were sentenced to death by firing squad, while two others drew life in prison.

Palestinian leaders said there were at least a dozen more suspects accused of helping the Israelis and that all of them could expect the same fate.

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