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Monday, February 09, 2004

DEBKA: Washington not taken in by Palestinian show trial

DEBKAfile Special Report: US ambassador to Israel Dan Kurtzer sharply criticized the Palestinians trial that opened in the Gaza Strip Saturday, February 7, of four men accused of murdering three CIA agents in a roadside bombing last October. He said the trial before a military court should not be held behind closed doors, Washington should have been told in advance and the charge sheet should be tougher – not merely manslaughter but first degree murder.

The four accused are Naeem Deeb Abu Fool, Basheer Abu Laban, Mohammed, Dosouki Asaliyye and Ahmed Abdel Fattah Safi. Their trial was adjourned until February 29.

Since the attack, US officials have been ordered to stop traveling to the Gaza Strip, which has seriously affected aid work. Last week, after accusing the Palestinian Authority of failing to track the killers and hand them over, the US embassy in Tel Aviv offered a $5 m reward for information leading to their apprehension. Jibril Rajoub, a senior adviser to Yasser Arafat, accused Washington of subjecting the Palestinians to blackmail over the affair.

DEBKAfile’s counter-terror sources report that two of the suspects were arrested on the day the US convoy was blown up on October 15 last year; the second pair were picked up on December 20. Their arrest was ordered by Muhammed al Hindi, chief of the Palestinian general intelligence service on the Gaza Strip. Their trial hurriedly staged in the face of increasingly angry demands from Washington for their handover.

The four suspects clearly appeared confused and terrified in court. DEBKAfile’s sources report that this is not surprising since in actual fact none of the four were involved in the murder of the three American agents. They were not even accused of the crime. The charge sheet describes them as planting roadside bombs on a main highway leading into the Gaza Strip from the Erez crossing point with Israel, the route followed by the American convoy.

The Americans watching the case know the four have been set up. Laying roadside bombs is what they do normally, but the bombing of the American convoy was not the work of these small fry...

The real perpetrators of the attack, as we reported last October 18, were Yasser Zannoon and Mohammad al-Baba, chiefs of the Khan Younes militia in the southern Gaza Strip which is run jointly by Jemal Sema Dana, head of the Popular Resistance Committees, and Rashid Abu Shbak, acting head of the Palestinian Preventive Security Service in the Gaza Strip.
Do a Google News search for [Gaza + convoy] and you'll see that this story, of Kurtzer finding fault with the PA, is only available in the Jerusalem Post, Haaretz and to its singular credit, the Kansas City Star.

On the other hand, the story of a Palestinian boy accidentally killed when the IDF fired a missile at a car in Gaza City on Saturday, (targeting and killing a leader of Islamic Jihad), is headlined by the San Francisco Chronicle, the New York Times, Channel News Asia, ABC Online (Australia), Reuters(UK), CNN, Voice of America, Al-Jazeera, Seattle Times, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, London Free Press, Kansas City Star, Los Angeles Times, Guardian UK, Atlanta Journal Constitution, ABC News, Detroit Free Press, Minneapolis Star Tribune, Japan Today, Canada's Globe and Mail, Times of India, Toronto Star, The Australian, Salon, Chicago Sun Times, Swissinfo and the Independent (UK) -- in addition to the Israeli papers.

It's early yet; maybe the Kurtzer story will make the papers tomorrow. Maybe not.