Palestinian murderers executed as Abbas bids to crack down on crime

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The Independent Online

Palestinian police executed four convicted murderers yesterday after Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian leader, signed their death warrants, the first since he was elected in January. He had been under intense pressure to show he was serious about restoring law and order.

The executions were the first since 2001. Three of the men, aged 27 to 33, were hanged at Saraya prison, Gaza. They had been on death row for a decade. A fourth man, 24, was shot by firing squad at police headquarters. He strangled a money-changer in 2000 and dumped his body in a bath of chloride. Another 55 convicted Palestinians are awaiting execution. About half are accused of guiding Israeli security forces to liquidate or capture wanted gunmen. But so far Mr Abbas has bowed to Israeli warnings that killing the alleged collaborators would disrupt the chances of resuming peace negotiations.

Human rights campaigners protested at the judicial killings. Hamdi Shakoura, of the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, said the condemned men had not been given a chance to appeal. Nor had notice been given of who was to be executed and when.

Raji Sourani, the centre's director, accused the authorities of selectively implementing the law. He said most lawbreakers were members of the security services, who were never punished.

Tawfiq Abu Khousa, an interior ministry spokesman, responded: "All the factions, the people in the street, urge us to carry out executions. But when we do, they oppose them. It is much better to start than never to start. We can't execute 50 at one go."

On the West Bank, the Palestinian Authority infuriated Israelis by releasing nine Islamic Jihad activists accused of involvement in a suicide bombing that killed five Israelis in Tel Aviv in February and by announcing that it would not disarm Palestinian militants. Ehud Olmert, the Israeli Vice-Premier, said: "The refusal to disarm the terror groups drops a cluster bomb on the peace process. Either they will fight terrorism or we will."