Two Teens Die in Sentence Protest
RAFAH, Gaza Strip (AP) _ Two teen-age Palestinian protesters were killed Wednesday after riots broke out over a state security court ruling that imposed a death sentence on a policeman from a powerful Palestinian family.
The sentence brought protests from human rights groups over the growing use of capital punishment and posed a major political problem for Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and his autonomy government.
Raed Attar was sentenced to death for his role in a February shootout that killed another police officer, Capt. Rifat Joudeh.
Both men were from prominent families in Rafah, a town bordering Egypt, and belonged to one of the several Palestinian security services that cross into each other’s turf.
Joudeh’s family had clamored for the death penalty, but Wednesday’s rioting by members of Attar’s family indicated the sentence would not end the problems the case has posed for Arafat.
As he was led away Wednesday from a Gaza City courtroom, Attar shouted: ``There is no justice in Palestine! This court decision has been fabricated!″
It was unclear when Attar, 25, would face the firing squad; a death sentence handed down last month to a police officer convicted in a child rape was carried out within hours of sentencing.
After Wednesday’s sentencing, members of Attar’s family gathered outside the Joudeh home and began throwing stones and bottles.
Palestinian police opened fire, and two youths, aged 17 and 18, were killed. The police then clamped a curfew on Rafah.
Arafat rushed back from a meeting with Jordan’s King Abdullah in Amman to deal with the crisis, and ordered an inquiry into Wednesday’s shootings.
The official Palestinian news agency, WAFA, said armed demonstrators shot towards an Israeli outpost during the riots, drawing return Israeli army fire that killed one of the youths.
The Israeli army denied the report, saying its forces had ``no part whatsoever in any shooting incident in the Gaza Strip.″
Aldamir, a Palestinian human rights group, and witnesses at the scene said the two boys were shot by Palestinian police. Hospital officials who examined one victim said the bullet that killed him had passed through the body, making a ballistics test impossible. The second youth was buried an hour after the shooting and no autopsy was performed.
Witnesses said they saw both Palestinian police and Israeli troops open fire during the riot.
Earlier, Mohammed Joudeh, the victim’s brother, said the family was pleased with the death sentence, and issued a chilling warning to the Attars.
``If they turn this into a clan vendetta, then we will be more than happy to make it into that,″ he said.
Palestinian courts have imposed numerous death penalties in the past five years. In most cases, however, Arafat has commuted the sentences to life prison terms, although three executions have been carried out. Another death penalty case is now before a West Bank court.
Human rights officials say the death sentences reflect a tendency by the Palestinian Authority to appease popular opinion instead of applying judicial standards.
``In every case the death sentence was carried out, it was because the people screamed for it,″ said Haidar Abdel Shafi of the Palestinian Independent Commission for Human Rights.
In an unusual move, Palestinian political factions from across the board issued a joint plea to Arafat to commute Attar’s sentence to halt the bloodshed in the streets.
Bassam Eid, director of the Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group, said the issue threatens the foundations of Palestinian democracy.
``Arafat is caught between public opinion and implementation of the judicial system,″ he said. ``This is very dangerous, I don’t think this will achieve democratic status for the Authority.″
Demands by the Palestinian Legislative Council for the abolishment of military courts have been ignored by Arafat, who has used the speedy, no-appeals system to put away Islamic militants sought by Israel.
Two other members of Attar’s security service were also sentenced Wednesday: Mohammed Abu Shamaleh, 25, who received a life sentence and Osama Abu Taha, 23, who was sentenced to 15 years.