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Trial Begins In Triple Killings

December 3, 1985

NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) _ A Briton and two Arabs admitted at the outset of their trial Monday that they killed three Israelis aboard a yacht at Larnaca marina last September. But they denied they are guilty of murder, as charged.

Their refusal to plead guilty to the Sept. 25 triple slaying indicated the suspects will try to defend the killings as justifiable. In seizing the yacht, the gunmen had demanded that Israel release 20 Palestinian prisoners.

When presiding Judge Yannakis Poyadjis asked each of the defendants, ″Do you plead guilty or not guilty?″ they replied only, ″I admit the killing.″

The hearing was adjourned until Tuesday.

The maximum sentence the court can impose for premeditated murder is life imprisonment.

The defendants are Khaled Abdel Kader el-Khatib, 28; Abdel Hakim Saado el- Khalifa, 29, and Ian Michael Davison, 27, of Southshields, England.

El-Khatib holds a Syrian passport and el-Khalifa a Jordanian one.

The three Israelis on the yacht were a married couple, Reuven and Esther Palzur, ages 53 and 50, and Abraham Avnery, 55.

Cypriot authorities say the three suspects seized the Israelis’ yacht in Larnaca marina, shot Mrs. Palzur to death immediately, then killed her husband and Avnery while negotiating with the Cyprus government.

The gunmen surrendered 10 hours after they boarded the yacht.

Prosecuting counsel Kypros Kyprianou said in his opening statement that an accomplice supplied the defendants with weapons and drove them to Larnaca marina.

However, he did not elaborate further on the unidentified accomplice.

The prosecutor said the three defendants arrived in Cyprus from Athens separately on different days shortly before the murder, posing as tourists.

Israel retaliated for the triple murder by bombing the Palestine Liberation Organization headquarters in Tunis, Tunisia, killing more than 70 people.

In apparent revenge, four guerrillas claiming to be members of a PLO faction hijacked the Italian cruise ship, ″Achille Lauro.″ An elderly American Jewish passenger was killed during the two-day ordeal on the Mediterranean.

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