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Jordan Court Convicts Palestinians

April 29, 2002

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AMMAN, Jordan (AP) _ A Jordan military court convicted four Palestinian Authority members on weapons and explosives charges Monday, sentencing them to up to 15 years in prison but acquitting them of planning terrorist attacks against Israelis in the West Bank.

The court spent five months trying five members of the Palestinian security forces, two of them in absentia. The fifth defendant was acquitted on all charges.

The two absent defendants were among the four convicted. The prison sentences ranged from 7 1/2 years to 15 years with hard labor.

Defense lawyer Sameeh Khreis said he planned to appeal.

Monday’s hearing was closed to the press, but a copy of the 34-page verdict was made available to The Associated Press.

The military prosecutor, Lt. Col. Mahmoud Obeidat, accused the five of smuggling arms into Jordan from Syria, hiding them and then conspiring to carry out attacks against Israeli targets across the Jordan River in the West Bank.

The three defendants in custody pleaded innocent. The other two accused are believed to be abroad.

During the trial, Khreis admitted the five acquired arms at the beginning of 2001, but said they did not commit crimes because the police seized their weapons.

Khreis told the court the defendants were members of the Palestinian security forces. He later told AP they were all captains or majors in the Palestinian Authority. One of the defendant’s wives, Nahla al-Ashqar, confirmed the account.

Khreis urged the court to differentiate between terrorism and what he described as the ``legitimate resistance of Palestinians against Israeli occupation.″

The court found Khalil Al-Anati, 46, and Bilal Al-Ashqar, 37, guilty of possession of weapons and explosives and sentenced them each to 7 1/2 years with hard labor.

The fugitives _ Abdul-Mu’ty Abu Mueleek, who is believed to be in Lebanon, and Sleiman Omran, believed to be in the Palestinian territories _ each were sentenced to 15 years with hard labor.

The court acquitted Yousef Nassar, 46, for lack of evidence.

The Jordanian-Israeli border _ the longest that Israel has with an Arab country _ remains relatively quiet. A peace treaty was signed in 1994. There have been occasional infiltration attempts by armed Palestinian guerrillas, but most of them have been foiled in Jordan.

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