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Palestinian Panel Holds Execution

August 31, 1998

JERUSALEM (AP) _ The Palestinian Authority’s first execution was seen by hundreds of people who shouted ``God is great″ in approval when two convicted killers died in a burst of bullets from a firing squad, witnesses said today.

The two men, shaking and unable to stand up without support, had pleaded for mercy Sunday and were forced to listen to a slow count from 1 to 10 before being killed by 10 policemen wearing black hoods in the courtyard of the Gaza City jail.

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat’s order to execute two members of his 40,000-strong security force won strong support in the West Bank and Gaza Strip today, judging by a sampling of views.

The two condemned men had killed two other policemen in a longstanding blood feud, and the crime was widely seen as a prime example of a growing problem _ officers abusing their power to settle personal scores.

Dozens of Palestinian police have been found guilty of illegally bursting into homes, making unauthorized arrests of personal enemies, jailing members of rival clans and taking part in wide corruption schemes and theft.

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.

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.

Even Arafat’s most powerful political rival, Sheik Ahmed Yassin of the Islamic militant group Hamas, welcomed the 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, while at the same time dragging his feet in fighting terrorism aimed at Israel.

The two men executed Sunday were Mohammed Abu Sultan, 25, and Raed Abu Sultan, 24, who served in the Gaza Strip police force. A military court sentenced them to death in a half-hour trial Saturday for gunning down brothers Majdi Khaldi, 32, and Mohammed Khaldi, 30, also members of the security force.

Some 500 people, including Cabinet ministers, legislators, members of Arafat’s Fatah movement and members of the Khaldi family were invited to witness the execution.

Sami Awadah, 29, a member of Arafat’s elite bodyguard Force 17, said the condemned men had trouble standing up and one was shaking with fear. They pleaded for mercy, but were turned down, Awadah said.

Shouts of ``Allahu Akbar,″ or ``God is great,″ rose from many in the crowd when a burst of shots rang out in the courtyard.

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