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Group Opposes Palestinian Killing

August 31, 1998

JERUSALEM (AP) _ Three days after the crime _ the slayings of two Palestinian policemen _ the two suspects had been tried, sentenced and put to death by a firing squad.

The executions Sunday _ the first ordered by Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat _ drew outrage from Palestinian human rights activists who oppose the death penalty.

Most Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip appeared to support Arafat’s actions, however.

The convicted killers were Palestinian security officers engaged in a long-standing feud with a rival clan. The crime was seen as a prime example of a growing problem: members of Arafat’s 40,000-strong security force abusing their power to settle personal scores.

The execution in the courtyard of Gaza City’s central jail was witnessed by more than 500 people, including Palestinian Cabinet ministers, legislators and members of Arafat’s Fatah faction.

The condemned men, brothers Mohammed and Raed Abu Sultan, 25 and 24, respectively, were led into the yard blindfolded and ordered to stand up against the back wall.

The two men, shaking and unable to stand up without support, pleaded for mercy, listening to a slow count from 1 to 10 before 10 policemen in black hoods opened fire on them, said witness Sami Awadah, a Fatah member.

When the volley of shots ran out, many in the crowd shouted ``Allahu Akbar!″ or ``God is great,″ as a sign of approval.

The Palestinian human rights groups Al Haq and Mandela Institute said Arafat was responding to public pressure when he ordered the executions. The victims, brothers Majdi Khaldi, 32, and Mohammed Khaldi, 30, were Fatah activists from a prominent family and there was fear the blood feud would continue.

``We believe Arafat’s approval came in response to the mood of the people of Gaza,″ the two groups said. ``There was not enough time for those who committed the crime to defend themselves.″

The Khaldi brothers were killed Thursday. By Saturday evening, the Abu Sultan brothers had been arrested, tried and sentenced to death by a military tribunal. The judges deliberated for only a half-hour.

Arafat and high-ranking Palestinian commanders paid a condolence call to the Khaldi family home Monday. Close to 1,000 people had gathered there to pay their respects.

With the execution, Arafat also signaled that he remains in control and will not be challenged. His message comes at a time when he is less robust than in the past, both physically and politically.

Arafat’s actions raised some question about whether he would use such extreme punishment to deal with political opponents.

The Islamic militant group Hamas has been challenging Arafat’s rule and has tried to wreck the peace accords with Israel by carrying out suicide bombings.

The execution of a convicted suicide bomber could silence Israel’s complaints that Arafat is not doing enough to stop attacks on Israel.

Arafat’s most powerful political rival, Hamas founder Sheik Ahmed Yassin, welcomed Sunday’s execution, saying it was in line with Islamic law stipulating that killers be put to death.

Israeli government spokesman Moshe Fogel said the executions showed that Arafat can act ``swiftly and even brutally″ against those who hurt his interests, but accused the Palestinian leader of dragging his feet when fighting terrorism aimed at Israel.

Palestinian human rights activist Bassem Eid characterized the death penalty as a human rights violation, but acknowledged that he did not expect Sunday’s execution to spur a rash of additional executions.

Eid said there was no precedent for Arafat using extreme force to silence opponents. Twenty-three prisoners have been sentenced to death since the Palestinian Authority was formed in 1994, but Arafat commuted all of those terms to life in prison.