Both Sides See Political Dimension to Trial of Palestinian Militia Leader
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Both Sides See Political Dimension to Trial of Palestinian Militia Leader

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When one of the Palestinians’ most popular figures goes on trial in Israel next month, the proceedings are likely to be filled with fiery charges and countercharges.

Israeli officials are hoping that the trial of Palestinian militia leader Marwan Barghouti will prove that members of the Palestinian leadership have been directly involved in terrorism against Israel.

Barghouti’s lawyer has a different agenda: He said Wednesday that he plans to use the trial to focus on what he described as Israel’s actions as an occupying power.

The judge, however, has already made his stance clear. He said at Wednesday’s indictment hearing that he would not permit the defense to “turn this court into a political stage.”

At the hearing in a Tel Aviv court, Barghouti — who ranked second only to Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat in recent polls of Palestinians — was charged with orchestrating terror attacks that killed scores of Israelis.

Israeli security officials have linked Barghouti to numerous attacks in which more than a dozen Israelis were killed, including a shooting attack at a Bat Mitzvah celebration in Hadera, a shooting spree on Jerusalem’s Jaffa Road and a shooting at a Tel Aviv restaurant.

After shouting the “uprising will be victorious” as he was led into court, Barghouti later said during the hearing that he was a peaceful man, “trying to do everything for peace between the two peoples. I believe the best solution is two states for two peoples.”

When a reporter asked about his health as he entered the court, Barghouti said “Baruch Hashem” — Hebrew for “Thank God” — an expression often used by observant Jews.

Barghouti learned Hebrew from previous times he was held in Israeli jails during the first intifada, which lasted from 1987 to 1993.

The indictment sheet described Barghouti as an “arch-terrorist whose hands are bloodied by dozens of terrorist actions.”

He is the most senior of five Palestinian officials whom Israel is bringing to trial. Two of Barghouti’s deputies have already been indicted.

After the seven-count indictment was filed, the judge set the next hearing for Sept. 5.

Barghouti was arrested in Ramallah in mid-April during an Israeli anti-terror operation in the West Bank. He insists that he is merely a political leader and is not responsible for his group’s violence.

Once considered a moderate who was involved in the peace efforts with Israel, Barghouti became a highly popular symbol of Palestinian resistance after the start of the intifada in September 2000.

According to the charge sheet drawn up by the Israeli Justice Ministry, Barghouti was in charge of the West Bank operations of Fatah, the Tanzim and the Al-Aksa Brigade.

The charges against him include murder, incitement to murder and membership and activity in a terrorist organization.

Once considered a possible successor to Arafat, Barghouti is a member of the Palestinian legislative council. During the intifada, he evolved into an outspoken advocate of armed struggle to achieve Palestinian aims.

Observers suggested that his arrest and trial would only increase his popularity among the Palestinian public.

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