- The Washington Times - Friday, October 11, 2002

JERUSALEM Israel has decided that a suspected Palestinian terror chieftain cannot be put on trial in open court even though its security forces have killed his wife and three children in a failed attempt to assassinate him.

The arrested man, Sheik Hassan Abu Kwaik, is instead to be held on a six-month administrative detention order under an Israeli law that allows West Bank military commanders to hold suspects indefinitely without charges.

The decision is seen by the sheik's supporters as an admission that Israeli authorities lack the means to secure a conviction, casting doubt on the reliability of information Israel uses in planning its "targeted killings."

Israeli authorities have told an attorney representing Sheik Kwaik they have solid evidence that he was involved in terror, but said that to reveal it in court would expose their informants to summary justice in the Palestinian streets.

Israel says its targeted killings, which the Palestinians call assassinations, are directed at practitioners and masterminds of terror attacks and suicide-bombing missions that have killed hundreds of Israelis. But no prior evidence against the intended target needs to be brought to an Israeli court.

So far Israel has killed about 50 senior Palestinians, often with rockets from helicopters and usually with pinpoint accuracy. Many bystanders have also been killed, including nine children and seven adults killed when Israel dropped a 1-ton bomb on the Gaza Strip home of Hamas official Salah Shehadeh.

The first attack on Sheik Kwaik also went badly wrong: An Israeli tank fired on and destroyed his pickup truck, but it was being driven by his wife, who had borrowed it to pick up the couple's three children from school.

All four died, while Sheik Kwaik continued to evade capture for months.

"This man lost his wife, his three children, and his entire life has been destroyed, because the army told us he was a very serious terrorist," said Nayla Atteya, a high-profile Arab-Israeli civil rights lawyer who is defending him.

"Now it's transpired that the accusations against him are unprovable. The question one asks is: 'Why then was he on the assassination list?' If the army doesn't have sufficient evidence to put him on trial, how come they had sufficient evidence to try and kill him?"

Israeli officials point out that a number of Palestinians have been brutally killed after being accused of being informers for Israel.

The government is hoping to avoid exposing its network of informants and its security surveillance in a trial already under way that of Marwan Barghouti, the West Bank leader of Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement and its Tanzim militias.

When Sheik Kwaik was first targeted, and again when he was arrested early last month, the army said he was implicated in a series of fatal attacks. These, it said, included the planning of suicide bombings in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and other Israeli cities.

In one such suicide bombing, 11 young people died while having coffee in Jerusalem's Moment Cafe, a popular meeting place near the prime minister's residence.

A member of the West Bank politburo of the radical Islamic movement Hamas, Sheik Kwaik had been on Israel's wanted list since the beginning of the uprising two years ago. He had previously spent several years in Israeli prisons.

Sheik Kwaik now is one of about 870 people being held in administrative detention. The law permits military commanders in the West Bank to hold suspects for successive six-month periods if they have "reasonable grounds" to consider them a threat.

The Israeli courts have authorized "liquidations," but only if there is no other means of arrest and if the individual targeted is believed to be planning or about to execute a terrorist action.

According to Israeli Transport Minister Ephraim Sneh, "If anyone has committed or is planning to carry out terrorist attacks, he has to be hit. It is effective, precise and just."

Human Rights Watch is among several groups that have protested the policy and the apparent lack of accountability of those carrying out the liquidations.

Israel's decision not to put on trial a man whose pursuit led to the deaths of four other people is expected to increase outside criticism of the Jewish state.

Distributed by World News & Features


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