Palestinians cheer militant executions of 'collaborators'

At dawn in the Tulkarem refugee camp yesterday, two Palestinians were led out into a side alley where the executioners, their faces covered with hoods, shot them at point- blank range.

Then their bullet-filled bodies were dragged into the main square, where they were propped up and displayed to the crowd for 15 minutes. The alleged crime of the two men was collaborating with Israeli intelligence.

Eighty-six Palestinians have now been lynched or summarily executed by militants for collaborating with Israeli security forces since the start of the intifada three years ago, including the two men killed yesterday.

Israeli security forces frequently use Palestinian informers, who tell them the whereabouts of wanted militants or warn of planned attacks. The two men killed yesterday, Suleiman Faraj, 23, and Samer Goma Ofeh, 19, had allegedly confessed to betraying Sirhan Sirhan, a local leader of the militant group Islamic Jihad, who was shot dead by the Israeli army earlier this month.

A videotape of the two men confessing was shown in the refugee camp's main square the night before they were killed. About 2,000 people watched as Faraj and Ofeh, visibly scared, listed the names of the militants who were assassinated by Israel after they had informed on them. In return, they said on the tape, the Israeli authorities made payments to their bank accounts after each successful assassination. Faraj and Ofeh admitted on the tape they had been linked with the Israeli intelligence for more than two years. The crowd reacted angrily, calling for the militants to execute them, according to sources in Tulkarem.

Only 10 members of their families took part in the two men's funeral. Some people shouted during the burial that their bodies should not be allowed to rest in the refugee camp's cemetery. Anguished family members of the two victims hurled stones at the house of one of the militants they believe was involved in their execution.

The two men disappeared three weeks ago. Their families went to the Palestinian police but nothing was done about it, according to sources in Tulkarem. It now transpires they were kidnapped by Islamic Jihad, who interrogated them and then filmed their "confessions". Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, another militant faction, said that Islamic Jihad had kidnapped them but that both groups had taken part in the executions "to share in the honour".

In past cases in which Palestinians have confessed to collaborating with Israel, they have told how they were blackmailed by Israeli intelligence officers. Even so, there is widespread support for the killing of collaborators among Palestinians..

A Palestinian security official, who insisted on anonymity, said the Palestinian Authority was against the killing of people without trial.

Several Palestinians have been tried and sentenced to death by Palestinian courts for collaboration with Israel but only two of those executions have ever taken place. Others have been lynched after crowds "mysteriously" got into the jails where they were being held.

The official claimed that Palestinian police were unable to prevent the killings because the local police headquarters had been destroyed by the Israeli army. But the source in Tulkarem disagreed. "There is a security apparatus in Tulkarem," he said. "They receive salaries. But they do nothing."

Meanwhile, the Israeli government announced tenders for 323 new houses in Jewish settlements in the West Bank yesterday , in direct defiance of the road-map peace plan backed by President George Bush, which calls for a freeze on settlement building. The Israeli government has announced tenders for 1,627 new houses in settlements since the beginning of the year.

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