Three Palestinians killed in vendetta attack on courtroom

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The Independent Online

An angry mob led by about two dozen Palestinian gunmen and members of the security forces stormed a heavily guarded Palestinian courtroom, at Jenin in the West Bank today, opened fire and killed three defendants charged with a vigilante killing.

The defendants were killed in lavatories, where police had hidden them after the mob charged into the building, according to a security official.

The assailants pushed their way into the lavatory, pumped dozens of bullets into the three men and dragged their bodies into the streets, shooting in the air in triumph, the security official said.

The defendants had been dressed in Palestinian police uniforms, apparently because court officials, expecting trouble, had tried to disguise their identities.

Witnesses said most of the assailants were members of the Palestinian security services or of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement.

Todayus killing came after a series of murders and retribution within one Palestinian clan that spanned more than a decade. It began in 1988, shortly after the outbreak of the first Palestinian uprising against Israeli occupation, when Osama Qmeil, a Fatah activist, began killing suspected collaborators with Israel.

In all, six members of the Qmeil clan were killed between 1988 and 1990 by a group of gunmen. After the establishment of the Palestinian Authority in 1994, Qmeil joined the Preventive Security Services.

Last week, Qmeil was killed after being lured to a rubbish dump on the outskirts of his hometown of Qabatiyeh, near Jenin.

Three members of his clan – ages 17, 18 and 38 – were charged with killing him and tried today before a military tribunal. The trial took place on the third floor of Jenin's Chamber of Commerce building, because most Palestinian security installations in town had been destroyed in previous Israeli air strikes.

During the trial, the defendants told the judge that they killed Qmeil in revenge for the killings of six members of their clan a decade ago.

The judge sentenced the two younger men to death but immediately commuted the sentence to 15 years hard labour because of their age – the same punishment given to the older man.

When word of the decision reached the crowd of about 500 people outside, gunmen stormed the building.

Trials before Palestinian military tribunals are usually swift, lasting no more than a few hours. In several cases involving members of the security forces defendants have been executed, while several more convicted men, including suspected collaborators, are still on death row.

Meanwhile an Israeli motorist was shot and seriously wounded in a Palestinian ambush near the Jewish settlement of Itzhar near the Palestinian city of Nablus. There was no claim of responsibility.

In the Rafah refugee camp in the Gaza Strip, meanwhile, thousands of Palestinians buried five gunmen killed Monday in what Palestinian security officials said was a targeted Israeli attack.

Security officials said the five were killed when several missiles fired from a helicopter gunship hit their car. The Israeli daily Haaretz said an Israeli security official confirmed Israel carried out the attack, but that the five were killed by an explosion in their car, not by missiles.

Israeli officials declined comment.

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