No escape from long arm of Israeli law: Palestinian police forced to target militants

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The Independent Online
PALESTINIAN prisoners freed from Israeli jails were being welcomed home as heroes in Gaza City on Friday night. But there was no party for Hani Abed. It was a sombre occasion as young bearded men gathered quietly at the home of this 32-year-old journalist.

All were supporters of Islamic Jihad, most extreme of the Palestinian Islamic militants. And there was no glory in having been the first political prisoner of the Palestine National Authority.

Perhaps it was fear, but nobody wanted to discuss the circumstances of Abed's arrest, or his treatment in Gaza's central jail, vacated by Israeli forces only last month.

Eventually Abed delivered a short statement. He had, he said, been held under 'interrogation conditions' in the same 2 sq yd cells formerly used by the Israelis for political prisoners. 'They said they had proof that I killed two Israeli soldiers. Then they produced no proof and they let me go,' he added, smiling almost coyly through his thick black beard.

The Palestinian police were also unwilling last week to discuss the case of Abed. The truth was that when they arrested him, they were acting at the behest of Israel.

When Abed was first detained 17 days ago at his news agency office in Gaza, by plain- clothes Palestinian intelligence police, rumours started to spread. It was said that he had been planning to assassinate Yasser Arafat, the PLO chairman; that he was being brought in 'for his own protection', after reports that he was on the Israeli wanted list.

In fact, the Israelis had asked the Palestinians to investigate evidence that Abed was involved in the killing of two Israeli soldiers at Gaza's Eretz checkpoint three weeks ago. Under the Gaza-Jericho agreement, the Palestinian police are obliged to investigate security cases raised by the Israelis.

Freih abu Middein, the new Minister of Justice of the Palestine National Authority, said yesterday: 'If the Israelis transfer information to us about suspects, we are obliged to investigate. We arrested Abed, and interrogated him according to the law. We found the Israeli information to be false, and we released him.'

Everyone knew that the Palestinian police would have to carry out arrests to curb the militants in their own camp, and prove to the Israeli authorities that they are in control.

However, the Abed case has exposed the dangerous legal vacuum left by the end of Israeli rule. Abed was not brought before a court, and nobody seems to know which law he might have been charged under: Israeli military law, Egyptian law, or British Mandate emergency regulations.

However, so bountiful is the goodwill towards the police on the streets that few ordinary Palestinians would ask why it was that the Palestinian police chiefs should be using methods of arrest reminiscent of the forces of occupation.

For the opposition factions in Gaza, the Abed case has exposed just how close the links are between the Israeli authorities and the Palestinian police. The Gaza-Jericho agreement terms such links 'co-operation'. But already the militants, particularly among the Islamists, are starting to view the Palestinian police as 'tools' of the Israelis.

It is no coincidence that the group that spoke out loudest against the arrest of Abed was Hamas, the Islamic Resistance Movement, which poses the most powerful opposition threat to Yasser Arafat. Hamas is warning Arafat not to use his police to suppress its activities. At present Islamic Jihad is the target: hours after Abed's release, another of its members, Mohammed abu Watfa, was detained. For now, Hamas militants are being left alone. But they know they could be next.