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High Ranking Palestinian Officials Goes on Trial in Israeli Court


The trial of Marwan Barghouti, the highest Palestinian official to be charged in an Israeli criminal court, opened Sunday in Tel Aviv.

The trial opened on a fiery note with a Palestinian witness called by the prosecution refusing to answer questions and then storming out of the courtroom. Mr. Barghouti has indicated he will respond the same way, after being advised by his Palestinian attorneys to adopt a passive defense and exercise his right to silence.

He is being tried by Israel for alleged complicity in attacks by Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's Fatah faction, in which 26 Israelis were killed. Mr. Barghouti was the head of Fatah in the West Bank, and is also a member of the Palestinian parliament. He has been held in custody since his capture by Israeli troops near the West Bank city of Ramallah, one year ago.

Despite facing a long jail term if convicted, he has repeatedly said that he will not mount a legal defense to fight the charges against him. Mr. Barghouti argues that he is a political figure, not involved in violence, and he does not recognize the legitimacy of an Israeli court to put him on trial. He says he supports a resumption of negotiations aimed at establishing a Palestinian state alongside Israel.

In the meantime, Mr. Barghouti says he supports the right of Palestinians to use force to defend themselves against what he calls Israel's military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. His Palestinian lawyers have also registered their protest over the trial, saying they will no longer appear in court. Following their withdrawal, Israel appointed public attorneys to represent Mr. Barghouti during the hearings. He says he does not recognize their right to defend him.

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