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Makeshift Court Convicts Four Palestinians in Last Year's Killing of Israel's Tourism Minister

Aired April 25, 2002 - 05:08   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: And we do have some breaking news to tell you about right now. A makeshift court convicts four Palestinians in last year's killing of Israel's tourism minister.

Our Rula Amin joins us live from Jerusalem with more on the verdict and the sentence -- Rula, what can you tell us?

RULA AMIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's a development that could help end the stand-off around Yasser Arafat's compound, where he has been besieged by Israeli Army tanks and soldiers for almost the last month and four months inside Ramallah.

A military court inside that compound today convened, convicted and sentenced four Palestinians with the killing of an Israeli cabinet minister in October. This has been a major issue. The Israeli prime minister, Ariel Sharon, had said that the siege around Arafat will not end until Mr. Arafat hands over those four Palestinians in addition to two more others to the Israelis to stand trial in Israel.

The Palestinians had been reluctant. They have said that their agreement with Israel, according to the Oslo peace agreement, is that anybody who's suspected of attacking Israelis should stand trial in the Palestinian territories.

Now, those four people had been arrested two months ago. They were brought to Yasser Arafat's compound with some kind of coordination and effort by the U.S. and Israeli Army in order to transfer them from the West Bank town of Nablus in the north of the West Bank to Yasser Arafat's compound.

Yasser Arafat was hoping that the arrest of those people would end the siege around his compound, but Ariel Sharon said that Mr. Arafat should turn these people in. This is something Arafat would not do. Today they were sentenced to, some of them were sentenced to 18 years, some to one year. The Palestinians say this is a message to the international community that the Palestinians are serious and committed to their obligations.

However, we have not heard yet from the Israeli government. They say they are withholding their comments until they get some kind of confirmation that this did, indeed, take place and then, only then, they will say if this is enough for them to end their siege. You have to remember there are another two people who are in that compound which Israel has already insisted that also they should be turned in. One is Ahmad Sadat. He's the secretary general of the PFLP, the group that is responsible for the killing of Mr. Ze'evi and Avi Shabaki (ph). He is the top financial chief in the Palestinian Authority who is accused of coordinating the Karine A ship affair, which is it's a ship that was carrying weapons to the Palestinian Authority.

Now, it's still again to be seen whether Israel will accept this as enough and whether what stand would the U.S. take, especially that Mr. Bush had earlier made comments saying that Israel was right in defeating Yasser Arafat because those people were inside that compound and that they should be handed over -- back to you.

COSTELLO: Well, Rula, I think that one of the problems that the Israelis would point out is that the Palestinians try and convict people, they throw them in jail and then the people who are in jail get out no matter what their sentences are. Is that a continuing concern?

AMIN: That is a general concern that Israel had voiced that the people who are arrested and even sentenced in the Palestinian Authority after a while are freed. Now, you hear, of course, a counter argument from the Palestinians saying that some of them are freed when the Israelis attack Palestinian prisons and Palestinian headquarters.

Now, that is not the major point here now. It's a point that comes at, it's a point where there's a lot of diplomatic efforts on the part of the U.S. and the Europeans to try to resolve the last two stand-offs in the West Bank, the stand-off in Bethlehem, where there are more than 200 Palestinians in the Church of the Nativity surrounded by Israeli soldiers and the stand-off in Ramallah around Yasser Arafat's compound.

And so maybe with the diplomatic efforts and with an environment where both the U.S. and Europe are trying to find some kind of resolution to those stand-offs, there will be some kind of movement on this and it will be resolved.

Still, again, the major thing is Israel's response to these sentences -- back to you.

COSTELLO: All right, we'll try to get a hold of an Israeli official to tell us what they think about this.

Thank you.

Rula Amin reporting live for us with that breaking news out of Jerusalem this morning.

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