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Israel to Try Senior Palestinian Official - 2002-07-12

Senior Palestinian official Marwan Barghouti and four Palestinian militia leaders are to face trial in Israel for allegedly masterminding terror attacks against the Jewish state. The trial will be the first time in years a prominent Palestinian figure will face a criminal court.

Mr. Barghouti is the leader of Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement. He was jailed in April when Israeli forces were in control of several West Bank towns and cities during a six-week incursion into the West Bank. The 43-year-old Palestinian has been held by the Shin Bet security services and has not been officially charged.

Israel says that he is behind several deadly attacks over the past 21 months of the Palestinian uprising. They charge that he was the commander of the Tanzim militias which are linked to the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades. Both groups have claimed responsibility for bus bombings and other attacks against Israelis.

Mr. Barghouti insists that he is a political leader and is not involved in violence.

Israeli authorities say Mr. Barghouti confessed to planning terrorist attacks and that he did so with the approval of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

A lawyer for Mr. Barghouti denies the Israeli claims and says his client will not recognize any kind of Israeli court, civilian or military, and will not appear for trial.

Israeli officials have said a civilian trial will show that the Palestinian leadership has been directly involved in terror attacks in Israel.

The Barghouti trial would be the first of a senior Palestinian official since Israel turned over control of control of much of the West Bank and Gaza Strip to the Palestinian Authority in 1994.

In another development, Palestinian hospital sources say Israeli troops have killed a Palestinian security officer in the Gaza Strip. The Palestinians say the man was shot early today when Israeli troops entered the down of Deir el Balah and exchanged fire with police.