- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 4, 2002

JERICHO, West Bank Few guards and little more than a hedge confine Ahmed Saadat and five fellow prisoners held in a Palestinian Authority jail under a U.S.-brokered deal five weeks ago.
Israel's siege of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's headquarters in Ramallah was ended by the deal, under which imprisonment of the six men was to be supervised by the United States and Britain. But there was no sign of any Americans or Britons during a visit last week to the cluster of low, brown buildings in the palm-lined Jordan River Valley comprising the Palestinian security compound here.
A few young men, towels slung over their shoulders, walked unconcerned through the yard, separated from the main road into the city only by a few scattered bushes. A solitary armed guard manned two checkpoints where cars entered the compound, but the bushes were unguarded though the city itself was surrounded by Israeli forces.
The prisoners, who indicated their status by crossing their forearms, later returned to unlocked cells with freshly painted gray metal doors, where a prison officer lay fast asleep, barefoot but uniformed, on a bed in his office.
Reports at the time of the deal in late April said British and American jailers would take custody of six men who had been holed up with Mr. Arafat in Ramallah. They included Mr. Saadat, who was ordered released yesterday by a Palestinian court. Hours later, the Palestinian Cabinet overturned the ruling, citing pressure from Israel.
A State Department official in Washington yesterday said the deal did not require U.S. and British monitors to be at the site all the time. Their only responsibility is to "verify the detention under appropriate conditions of the six and report to the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority," the official said.
The State Department declined to say whether the monitors were diplomats, soldiers or retired police officers, or to say how many there were.
Saeb Erekat, a senior minister in Mr. Arafat's administration who was unaware that a reporter had visited the prison, said in a telephone interview that British and American monitors "are there 24 hours a day." He said a document set out the terms of agreement under which the six men were held, but its contents were confidential.
During a second visit to the compound on the same day last week, a white Chevrolet four-wheel-drive vehicle with blue diplomatic license plates was seen drawing up to the dusty entrance to a part of the compound run by Preventive Security probably the most important of the 12 Palestinian Authority security services.
The two diplomatic visitors, both Western in appearance, entered a cramped office where they sat down to sip sweet Arabic tea with a blue-uniformed police captain and a suave plainclothes intelligence officer with Preventive Security.
The latter spoke elegant English and identified himself only as Moussa. The two diplomats one male, one female declined to identify themselves at all.
As soon as a reporter entered the room, the diplomats rose, leaving their tea barely touched, and exited hurriedly.
Imprisoned in Jericho along with Mr. Saadat are four men convicted of the assassination of Israeli Tourism Minister Rehavam Zeevi. The sixth prisoner is the Palestinian Authority's top financial official.
Mr. Zeevi's killers were sentenced to between one and 18 years' imprisonment by a makeshift military court-martial inside Mr. Arafat's office complex in Ramallah. Their crimes were described as "offenses against the interests of the Palestinian people."
Neither Mr. Saadat nor the other prisoner, Fuad Shoubaki, has been subjected to a trial of any sort.
Mr. Shoubaki, the Palestinian Authority's chief financial official, is accused of masterminding arms shipments, including 50 tons of weaponry intercepted by Israel aboard a Lebanese ship bound for the Gaza Strip. Mr. Saadat was the leader of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a group of Marxist radicals comprising the second-largest grouping inside the Palestine Liberation Organization.
Mr. Saadat and Mr. Shoubaki appear to occupy the second floor of a wing in the prison described by a stenciled sign in English as "General Security HQ." No one answered when a reporter rang a bell next to the brown wooden door.
The reporter then wandered around the building opening doors at random, without finding a single prisoner in his cell. Only three of the cells were locked.


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