Alleged terrorist causes stir by citing Barak comments

LOD — An alleged Hamas terrorist on trial exacerbated a political flurry Tuesday when he tried to justify his actions by quoting recent comments made by Labor Party chairman Ehud Barak.

Barak's comments came in an Israeli TV interview last week, when he stated that were he a Palestinian youth, he would have joined a terrorist organization.

Iman Mahmud Kapisha, the accused terrorist on trial, said, "Barak said that if he had been a Palestinian, he would have been a soldier in Hamas, or Fatah, or Hezbollah. We, too, are soldiers in Hamas, and we want to liberate Palestinian land and want to release prisoners. This is not forbidden. We are allowed to do this," he said.

Kapisha, 28, and three other suspected members of the Tsurif cell were brought to Lod Military Court, where they pleaded not guilty to charges of involvement in terrorist attacks that led to the deaths of at least 11 Israelis and the wounding of 49. They include at least five drive-by shootings, the kidnapping and murder of Staff-Sgt. Sharon Edri, and the bombing of the Apropo cafe in Tel Aviv a year ago.

Kapisha's comments sparked bickering between the Labor and Likud parties, and they set off fresh criticism of Barak, who has been assailed since making the original remarks.

Likud MK Naomi Blumenthal maintained that Barak "had given the terrorists their new recruitment slogan."

Deputy Defense Minister Silvan Shalom said that "a Palestinian youth listening to Barak might judge himself unpatriotic if he is not a terrorist."

For his part, Barak responded, "This is much ado about nothing. Since when do vile terrorists determine our agenda?…Everything I said was hypothetical on a bizarre TV show on an obscure channel [Israel cable Channel 3]."

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reacted without specifically mentioning Barak, saying only that "everyone ought to take responsibility for his own words and not run away from them. Under no circumstance must any legitimacy be accorded to terror."

In related news, Ami Ayalon, head of the General Security Service, told a Knesset committee Tuesday that there was an increase in the number of terror attacks in 1997 compared to 1996.

Making his regular twice-yearly briefing, Ayalon said there were 463 attacks against Israeli targets in 1997 compared to 268 in 1996. An attack is considered anything from a firebombing and beyond in terms of severity.

Ayalon added that Hamas has shown a desire to carry out more mass killings and this it is striving to carry out attacks on a larger scale.

Some 100 planned attacks were thwarted last year, Ayalon said. However, he added, security cooperation with the Palestinian Authority has deteriorated and is "minimal."