- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 26, 2002

JERUSALEM Former Russian dissidents living in Israel have appealed for American intervention to prevent the execution of three Palestinian men sentenced to death by the Palestinian Authority late last week for collaboration with Israel.

One of the condemned men, Walid Hamdiya, 39, formerly a leading Hamas sheik, was abruptly brought out from a cell in Gaza, where he had languished for seven years, and given a four-hour trial and death sentence Thursday night.

A petition by the dissidents was handed to U.S. envoy William Burns during this week's visit here. It could not be learned whether he raised the issue in talks with Palestinian officials.

There are about 200 men accused of being collaborators with Israel's security services who are being jailed by Yasser Arafat's Palestinian Authority.

Twenty to 30 accused of being collaborators have been lynched, some dragged out from court toilets, others shot in apartments and dragged dead through streets or strung on railings by Palestinian vigilantes.

Those who are sentenced to die are supposed to be shot by a police officer.

Gaza's prosecutor, Khaled al Kidreh, predicted in a Jerusalem newspaper that Mr. Arafat would endorse the execution soon.

The former dissidents Ida Nudel, about whom the film "Goodbye Moscow" was made, and Yosef Mendelevitch, who faced a death sentence in the Soviet Union for attempting to flee the country by hijacking an airliner were eventually allowed to leave Russia for Israel.

They were later joined by fellow-refusenik Natan Sharansky, who is an Israeli Cabinet minister.

In their letter to Mr. Burns, they maintain that the accused collaborators had little or no chance of a successful defense.

They were denied attorneys, and there is no appeal.

The pending executions are connected with the power struggle in Gaza between the Palestinian Authority and the radical Islamic movement Hamas.

Tel Aviv lawyer Nitsana Darshan-Leitner has been denied a chance to act as the accused's defense counsel.

"Sheik [Ahmed] Yassin is getting his human sacrifices," she said, referring to the spiritual leader of Hamas.

Palestinian Authority security officials are demanding that Hamas hand over a group of eight young men who ambushed, then fatally shot a leading police figure, Col. Rajeh Abu Lihyeh, after dragging him out of his car at a fake roadblock.

His slaying was said to be revenge for a previous killing by Palestinian police of a young Hamas activist.

Mohammed Dahlan, former head of preventive security in Gaza and until a week ago Mr. Arafat's national security adviser, told businessmen in Gaza last week that unless the killer or killers of Col. Lihyeh were handed over by Hamas, an all-out confrontation would erupt.

"We have thugs just as they have thugs," he said. "If they attack a police station, we will burn down 50" Hamas buildings.

The sudden decision to execute the long-detained Hamas collaborators is viewed as part of an unfolding deal to end the feud.

As head of the Palestinian Authority, Mr. Arafat has to authorize any executions.

Last month, another accused collaborator, Akram Mohammed al-Zatma, 31, was turned over to Hamas by Gaza police boss Rashid Abu Shabak.

Mr. al-Zatma was taken from his cell and delivered to masked Hamas gunmen, who quickly killed him gangland-style. On Sept. 23 his body was discovered in a garbage container in Gaza.

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