Palestinians respond to U.S. heat, arrest 4 in attack on security team

Sunday, February 8, 2004

GAZA CITY The Palestinian Authority has launched a military trial of four defendants charged with a bombing of a U.S. embassy convoy in which three American security guards were killed.

The trial began on Saturday amid heavy U.S. pressure on the PA to capture and prosecute those responsible for the Oct. 15, 2003 attack on the U.S. embassy convoy north of Gaza City. As late as last week, the PA said it had not captured any suspects in the killing.

The four Palestinian defendants were brought to a military court in Gaza City for the start of the trial, Middle East Newsline reported. PA military courts are similar to the state security courts abolished by the PA in 2003. Human rights groups do not regard PA military courts as operating according to standard rules of evidence.

The four defendants were identified as Naim Dib Taha Abu Foul, 43; Bashir Khalil Said Abu Laban, 42; Mohammed Disouki Kamel Assaliya, 22; and Ahmed Abdel Fatah Saafi, 24, all of them from the Jabalya refugee camp. Abu Foul and Abu Laban were arrested on Oct. 15. Assaliya, and Saafi were arrested on Dec. 20.

The defendants were charged with possessing explosives and planting them along the Gaza highway. They were also accused of confronting Israeli troops in the Gaza Strip, but were not directly charged with killing the U.S. embassy guards.

The indictment said the bombs that exploded near the U.S. convoy might have been meant for Israeli tanks. The United States, which has offered a $5 million reward for information that would lead to the capture of the bombers, has rejected this explanation.

"It could be that the explosion that killed the Americans was caused by these devices," the indictment read.

The court adjourned until Feb. 29.

The Palestinian Center for Human Rights has protested the military trial, pointing out that the defendants were not members of the PA security services. The center also said the indictment was not definite regarding the charges against the suspects, at least one of whom was said to have been tortured.

"The accusations were submitted against the four persons together and lacked enough evidence which is clear by the frequent usage of the word 'may,'" the center said. "The trial was organized quickly. The accused persons were informed about its time only a short period earlier, which was too late for them to hire lawyers during the court session in violation of their right to a fair trial."

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