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Israel court convicts Fatah leader of murder

Marwan Barghouti disputes court's authority

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Marwan Barghouti
Crime, Law and Justice

JERUSALEM (CNN) -- An Israeli court Thursday convicted popular Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti on three counts of murder and one count of attempted murder.

The trial, held in Tel Aviv, began in August 2003. Israeli Judge Sarah Sirotta scheduled his sentencing for June 6.

Barghouti was convicted of killing five people in three separate attacks: a 2001 attack that killed a Greek orthodox monk in the West Bank; a 2002 attack at Givat Zeev that killed an Israeli; and the Tel Aviv Seafood Market restaurant attack last year that killed three people.

The attempted murder charge stemmed from a car bomb that prematurely exploded.

Prosecutor Devorah Chen asked the court to hand down five life terms for each person killed in the attacks.

The court said prosecutors did not have enough evidence to link Barghouti to 33 other charges.

Raising his cuffed hands in defiance, Barghouti refused to respond directly to the court's verdict and disputed the court's authority.

"This is a court of occupation that I do not recognize," he said.

Israel accuses Barghouti of heading several militant groups in the West Bank, including the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, a militant offshoot of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement. The U.S. State Department has designated it as a foreign terrorist organization.

Israel also says Barghouti took orders from Arafat, and is not the political activist he claimed to be.

In her ruling, Sirotta indirectly implicated the Palestinian leader. "Arafat would never give explicit orders for this or that attack, but he let it be known when the timing would be right," she said.

The trial of Barghouti, 43, has been closely watched because of his popularity with Palestinians.

Barghouti, fluent in Hebrew because of his time in Israeli jails, was touted by Israeli leaders at one point as a Palestinian leader they could deal with.

At least some West Bank leaders have suggested he could be a successor to Arafat and polls taken on the West Bank show his popularity has been growing since his arrest.

Barghouti has refused throughout the process to recognize the authority of the Israeli court to try him. Barghouti has said he is not subject to the court's jurisdiction because he is a member of the Palestinian legislature.

He gave the following statement, after he was convicted: "If I am to be in jail, I assure you that is not important. Dying in jail is not important. My day of freedom will come when the entire Palestinian people will be released from Israeli occupation.

"I tell the Israeli public to decide: Either we have a state of all the citizens or you give us a state of our own.

"In principle, I am against killing innocents on either side. It helps nothing, but this is also the fault of the state of Israel.

"Those same Israelis who oppose the occupation do so for the sake of Israel, not for the Palestinian people.

"Take Gaza for example, in four years, just one suicide bomber has come from there, so what is Israel doing in Gaza? If Sharon leaves Gaza, the entire situation will change."

In London, Rawhi Fattouh, speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council, branded the trial political.

"Israel has no right to bring to trial a Palestinian politician, elected by the Palestinian people. He's a Palestinian leader," Fattouh said.

"This is a political trial -- to the Palestinian people, to the Palestinian Authority and to everything that is going on in the Palestinian Territories. Baghouti is innocent, all the allegations directed against him are untrue. This is a political trial."

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