Palestinian leader falls to floor in Israeli courtroom

Friday, January 3, 2003

JERUSALEM -- The top-ranking Palestinian in Israeli custody fell to the floor during a court appearance Thursday, apparently tripping while guards hustled him away after he shouted out in defiance.

Also Thursday, four Palestinians, including three teenagers, were killed in infiltration attempts. In another incident, a 70-year-old Israeli was killed in the Jordan River Valley, and a militia aligned with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement claimed responsibility.

Marwan Barghouti, the West Bank leader of Fatah, was in court in Tel Aviv as part of his trial for involvement in Palestinian terror attacks that took the lives of 26 Israelis. Barghouti maintains he is not involved in violence.

As he entered the courtroom, he raised his shackled arms and shouted, "The intefadeh (uprising) will win and peace will win and the occupation will be defeated."

Relatives of Israeli attack victims responded with cries of "murderer." He was ordered returned to his cell until the trial is over.

As police hustled him out of the room, Barghouti, whose feet were also shackled with a short chain, suddenly fell over backward next to a doorway. It appeared that he had tripped, but a crowd of people towered over Barghouti -- a short man -- making it difficult to see precisely what caused his fall.

Barghouti's attorney said his client was knocked down by a policeman. Police denied the claim.

In Gaza, three teenagers killed while trying to break into a Jewish settlement were buried Thursday.

The three -- cousins Mohammed and Tareq Dawais and a friend, Jihad Abed -- were carrying a knife and cutting tools, relatives said. They climbed over a perimeter fence in front of two settlements and were shot dead by Israeli soldiers.

Fares Dawais said his younger brother Mohammed, 15, was intent on carrying out an attack on Israelis. "His only dream was to become a martyr," Dawais said, as Palestinians refer to those killed in the conflict with Israel. Leaders of Palestinian militias said the boys acted on their own.

The settlements, Dugit and Elei Sinai have been targeted repeatedly by Palestinian gunmen. In Elei Sinai in October 2001, an Israeli couple was killed and 15 people were wounded before security forces killed the two infiltrators.

In northern Israel, a Palestinian crossed from the West Bank into the village of Maor and entered a house, firing two shots from his assault rifle before it jammed. The couple inside escaped after the homeowner, Ronald Maori, struggled with the gunman.

"Suddenly I heard a shot and I jumped from bed and I heard my wife shout that there was a terrorist in the house," said Maori, an immigrant from Switzerland. "When I heard that the terrorist had a problem with his gun, I took all that I had on the table and threw it at him."

After the couple escaped, the gunman remained holed up in the house for more than two hours before police shot and killed him.

Also Thursday, the badly burned body of a 70-year-old Israeli man, Massoud Elon, was found in a car in the West Bank. The Fatah-linked Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades claimed responsibility. Elon, who sells used clothes, had left his home in Israel on Wednesday, apparently planning to do business with Palestinians.

Shortly after the current conflict erupted in September 2000, the Israeli army banned Israeli civilians from entering Palestinian areas. Several Israelis who defied the ban for business or shopping have been killed.

In a political developments in advance of Israel's Jan. 28 election, the Central Election Commission ruled that Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz cannot run for parliament. Mofaz, a former military chief of staff, has not been a civilian long enough to qualify for the election.

A poll published Thursday showed that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's Likud Party is losing support amid a scandal over allegations of corruption in the party's selection of candidates for parliament. From a high of 41 seats three weeks ago, Likud strength has dropped to 31 of the 120 seats in parliament, the poll in the Haaretz daily showed. Pollsters interviewed 527 people and quoted a 4.3 percent margin of error.

However, the poll indicated that Likud and its hard-line allies could still form a majority coalition after the election, giving Sharon another term in office.

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: