Palestinian leader convicted of ordering shootings

Marwan Barghouti, the Palestinian leader many see as successor to Yasser Arafat, was convicted yesterday of ordering the fatal shootings of four Israelis and a Greek monk, and supplying funds and arms for other attacks.

Marwan Barghouti, the Palestinian leader many see as successor to Yasser Arafat, was convicted yesterday of ordering the fatal shootings of four Israelis and a Greek monk, and supplying funds and arms for other attacks.

The Tel Aviv district court convicted Barghouti of five counts of murder, one of attempted murder and one of membership of a terrorist organisation. The prosecution asked for five consecutive life terms. He will be sentenced on 6 June. But the panel of three judges cleared Barghouti of responsibility for 21 other deaths, ruling there was no evidence directly connecting him to those attacks carried out by militants linked to his group.

At the time of his arrest in April 2002, Barghouti headed Mr Arafat's Fatah movement in the West Bank. Israel said Barghouti, 45, also played a leading role in Fatah's violent offshoot, the al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, which has mounted scores of shooting and bombing attacks on Israelis during more than three years of fighting.

The court said Mr Arafat relied on Barghouti to fulfill his wishes, including attacks, giving legal weight for the first time to the long-held Israeli government position that Mr Arafat has orchestrated violence.

"Yasser Arafat did not give clear and precise instructions, but he made sure those under him understood fully when he was interested in a cease-fire and when he was interested in attacks against Israel," the ruling said. Mr Arafat and his aides deny the Israeli allegations.

The al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades in the Gaza Strip have threatened to kidnap Israelis as a bargaining chip for their jailed leader. Barghouti, who advocates a Palestinian state alongside Israel, flashed V-signs as he entered the court and repeated that he did not accept the court's authority.

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