Leftist Palestinian leader jailed for 30 years

An Israeli court has sentenced leftist Palestinian leader Ahmed Saadat to 30 years in prison for heading an "illegal terrorist organisation". He was also initially accused of plotting the murder of far-right Israeli tourism minister Rehavam Zeevi.


AFP- An Israeli military court on Thursday sentenced Ahmed Saadat, the leader of the leftist Palestinian Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), to 30 years in prison for heading an "illegal terrorist organisation."

"As chief of an illegal terrorist organisation, Ahmed Saadat is responsible and guilty of all actions carried out by this organisation," a military source told AFP on condition of anonymity following the verdict.

When Israeli forces seized Saadat in March 2006 in a controversial raid on a Jericho prison, he stood accused of planning the 2001 murder of far-right Israeli tourism minister Rehavam Zeevi, which was carried out by four PFLP militants.

Prosecutors later decided not to pursue this case against Saadat, instead pressing the charges against four PFLP gunmen who were seized along with him in Jericho.

The PFLP slammed the verdict as political.

"When the Israelis arrested him, they accused him of having killed Zeevi, but this accusation did not appear in the sentencing which proves that his arrest was political and was not related to security issues," PFLP member Khalida Jarar told AFP.

Zeevi, 75 at the time of his death, was shot at a hotel in occupied and annexed east Jerusalem on October 17, 2001.

Saadat and the four militants convicted of Zeevi's killing were seized during a controversial raid on Jericho prison in the West Bank in March 2006 when Israeli troops stormed the jail shortly after British guards left their posts.

The PFLP claimed the killing of Zeevi after its leader Abu Ali Mustafa was assassinated by Israeli troops.

Zeevi was an ultra right-winger and supported the ideology of "transfer," which would see all Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip expelled to neighbouring Arab countries.

The 54-year-old Saadat is a father of four and a veteran of the Palestinian uprising, or intifada.

The former university mathematics student was a popular leader in the first Palestinian uprising in 1987 and his election to the PFLP in October 2001 was seen as a boost to the leftist group's radical line.

He gained a reputation as a man of the people who was much more charismatic and better tuned in to the situation on the ground than his PFLP predecessor, Abu Ali Mustafa.

Mustafa was killed in an August 2001 helicopter strike on his offices in the West Bank town of Ramallah, triggering swift warnings of revenge from Saadat.

Zeevi's death prompted the Palestinian Authority, under US and Israeli pressure, to arrest Saadat.

Late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat said that his Palestinian Authority arrested Saadat on January 15, 2002 to force him to surrender Zeevi's killers.

Saadat's arrest was one of the conditions set by Israel for lifting the blockade which had stranded Arafat at his West Bank headquarters in the town of Ramallah in 2002, but was widely protested by Palestinians.

While in prison, Saadat was elected to the Palestinian parliament in January 2006.

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