Double execution wins support of Palestinian officials

JERUSALEM — Palestinian Authority leader Yasser Arafat's order to execute two of his police officers appears to have won support from Palestinian officials.

The two brothers who had served in the Palestinian Police were executed Sunday by a firing squad at Palestinian Police headquarters in Gaza. They had been convicted of murder.

It was the first time the Palestinian Authority has carried out a death sentence.

The move was viewed as a strong warning that the Palestinian Authority is seeking to clamp down on abuses of power and to warn security forces against abusing their power to settle personal scores. It also appeared to emphasize the power struggle between Fatah and opposition extremists.

The execution generated outrage among human rights groups, which declared it was a violation of international law and a most blatant breach of the basic right of the individual — the right to life.

The organizations charged that the lightning trial gave the defendants no opportunity to appeal, and the verdict was handed down after the briefest of legal procedures. The groups also protested that members of the Palestinian legislative council and cabinet ministers observed the execution.

Israel likewise condemned the executions. Cabinet Secretary Danny Naveh said this week the executions offered more evidence of why Israel would "never agree to a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital."

On Saturday, a military court sentenced Mohammed Abu Sultan, 25, and Raed Abu Sultan, 24, to death; a third brother, Fuad, to life imprisonment with hard labor; a fourth brother, Fares, to life imprisonment; and another brother, Alla, to five years. The Abu Sultan brothers were convicted for their involvement in the gunning down of brothers Majdi Khaldi, 32, and Mohammed Khaldi, 30, on Thursday of last week as part of a family feud.

The Khaldi brothers were also members of the Palestinian police and Majdi was a high-ranking Fatah official.

A member of the Khaldi family said that all five Abu Sultans should have been executed, fueling speculation that the feud — started over accusations by the Abu Sultans that the Khaldis were looking at Abu Sultan women — was not over.

Gaza police chief Ghazi Jabali told a news conference that the two had asked to pray before the execution and made a last-minute plea for clemency.

According to Bassam Eid, head of the Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group, a majority of the 23 Palestinians sentenced to death and held in Palestinian prisons are former members of Force 17 and Palestinian security apparatus.

He called on the Palestinian Authority to submit a bill prohibiting the death penalty.

As the execution was carried out, Arafat met in Ramallah with a delegation of Palestinian legislative council members. The PLC's Hatem Abdul Khader said Arafat informed the delegation of the execution half an hour before it was carried out. He said the majority of members supported the execution.

"We in the PLC agree on the death penalty in principle," Khader said, adding that such steps strengthen the sovereignty of the Palestinian state.

Dr. Aaron Lerner, a right-wing activist who is director of the Independent Media Review and Analysis, spoke Monday with Palestinian Authority Minister of Justice Freih Abu Medein about the executions.

Abu Medein told Lerner that any crime committed by murderers similar to the crime committed by the two police officers will be treated in the same fashion.

"We gave ourselves four years to take the right decision regarding capital punishment," Abu Medein said. Arafat has in the past always refused to authorize capital punishment, but, he added, the Palestinian Authority had "reached a red line" because of involvement of security forces in killings, either directly or by furnishing arms.

"Otherwise we are going to have people taking revenge. We are going to face civil war between the people themselves because we are a conservative society," he said.