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Palestinian shot soldier to sell Kalashnikov

A Kalashnikov rifle, once the symbol of the Palestinian revolution, was the motive for a Gaza murder that may lead to the Palestinian Authority's first judicial execution. The gun was worth a large amount of money in the impoverished shanty- towns of the Gaza Strip.

Thaer Fares, formerly of the Palestinian armed forces, thought it worth killing for. Two weeks ago he told a military court he wanted the money to feed his family. In a calm voice, the ex-sergeant, 29, told how he lured Nasser Abu Aqel, another soldier, to target-shoot with him in dunes overlooking the sea outside Gaza City on 29 April.

Fares shot Abu Aqel 10 times. Had he not been pursued by local farmers, he would have sold his friend's AK-47 on the black market.

Major Ibrahim al-Hadhud, head of the court that sentenced him to death, said at least Fares had a job in an area where 55 per cent of the population was unemployed. "He was getting 1,000 shekels [£230] a month," the major said.

Fares first asked a friend, also a soldier, to meet him at an isolated spot to discuss buying 1,500 rounds of ammunition in a black-market deal. The friend was to bring an automatic rifle to test the ammunition, but suddenly had to go on duty. Fares then persuaded Abu Aqel to go to the sea for some shooting. Abu Aqel said: ''I don't have any bullets." Fares said: "Don't worry; I have five rounds."

He drove down a deserted track. Taking Aqel's gun, he covertly loaded it and shot him in the face. Major Hadhud said he then put the gun on automatic, firing into the body.

He would have got away, but suspicious farmers blocked the road and, as he tried to drive round, his car stuck in sand. Pursued on foot, he got a lift from a passing car. The driver noticed his bloodstained clothes and turned him in at a checkpoint.

Four days later he was sen-tenced. His appeal is likely to be turned down today and, if Yasser Arafat, the Palestinian Authority leader, confirms the sentence, Fares will face the firing-squad.