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Palestinian Official’s Trial Delayed

May 16, 2002

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RAMALLAH, West Bank (AP) _ The trial of a Palestinian Authority official accused of bankrolling a foiled weapons shipment was postponed Thursday because two of the judges were unable to cross an Israeli military checkpoint, court officials said.

Fuad Shobaki, finance director for the Palestinian security services, is accused by Israel of paying for 50 tons of weapons from Iran that were found aboard the Karine A ship, seized by Israeli naval commandos in the Red Sea in January.

Palestinian High Court Judge Sammy Sarsour said the other two judges that were to preside over the trial were turned back at an Israeli army checkpoint in their hometown of Hebron in the southern West Bank. An Israeli army spokeswoman said she was checking the report.

Shobaki, who is currently being held in a prison in the West Bank town of Jericho, was to be tried in absentia at the Ramallah court.

He is jailed in Jericho along with five other Palestinians who had been holed up together with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in his headquarters, besieged by Israeli troops and armor in April.

The six men were transferred to the Jericho prison and are guarded by American and British wardens under a deal that won Arafat’s freedom from the battered Ramallah headquarters. Israel had initially insisted that the men be handed over before Arafat’s release.

Four of the men were convicted of assassinating right-wing Israeli Cabinet Minister Rehavam Zeevi in a trial in Arafat’s compound on April 25. In the daylong trial, security officials acted as judges, prosecutors and defense attorneys.

The four were sentenced to prison terms ranging from one to 18 years. Human rights activists criticized the trial as unfair.

The other Palestinian being held in Jericho is Ahmed Saadat, head of the radical PLO faction that took responsibility for Zeevi’s slaying. He has yet to be tried.

On Jan. 3, Israeli troops seized the weapons-laden Karine A in a daring raid in the Red Sea and put on display the 50 tons of Katyusha rockets, guided anti-tank missiles, mortars, anti-tank mines, machine guns, assault rifles, explosives and ammunition.

They quickly accused Shobaki of paying for the shipment.

Shobaki’s lawyer, Hussein Shiyoukhi, said Thursday there is no evidence to link Shobaki to the shipment.

``I’m 200 percent sure that he will be released soon,″ he said.

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