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(photo credit: www.aljazeerah.info)
Ahmed Saadat was never tried because Israel refused to provide the Palestinian Authority with evidence that he ordered the murder of transportation minister Rehavam Ze'evi, Alastair Crooke, a former security adviser to the European Union's special envoy to the Middle East, told The Jerusalem Post Wednesday.
"[Former PA chairman Yasser] Arafat insisted that evidence be produced and that [Saadat] stand trial in Palestine," he said by phone from London. "Israel was not prepared to give evidence to the Palestinians or to Arafat."
In January 2002, Saadat, leader of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, was arrested by PA special forces, who also caught the four PFLP members responsible for Ze'evi's murder. The five were held at Arafat's Mukata headquarters in Ramallah.
In March, the IDF laid siege to the headquarters, locking Arafat in and demanding the surrender of the PFLP members along with Fuad Shubaki, the PA official accused of organizing the Karine A weapons ship.
Crooke was involved in the security negotiations to end the standoff. "I was negotiating over the standoff at the Church of the Nativity [in Bethlehem], which was running parallel to the discussions of the Mukata," said Crooke, who had been an MI-6 agent for 30 years. "Shubaki, Saadat and the situation in Bethlehem were essential to ending the siege of the Mukata."
A secret agreement between the Israelis and the PA was reached so that Arafat would be freed. "To end the standoff, it was agreed that [Saadat, Shubaki and the other four] would be detained at a Palestinian prison under US and UK supervision," said Crooke, who mediated between Israelis and Palestinians on numerous occasions during his six years in the country.
On April 29, a PA military tribunal tried the four PFLP members and sentenced them to terms up to 18 years' imprisonment for killing Ze'evi. Arafat, however, ruled that because Saadat was a political leader and not a military leader, his case must be decided by the PA judiciary, and without evidence there would be no trial. Later that day they were transferred to the Jericho jail. IDF forces withdrew from the Mukata on May 2.
Western supervision at a PA jail was Crooke's idea. "It was my genesis," said Crooke, who created the idea to solve another problem: Palestinian security prisoners who escaped through the jails' "revolving doors." "I gave some suggestions at the time how in Gaza and Jericho the EU would provide monitored detention centers to prevent the revolving door."
The prisons would be hi-tech with electronic signatures, voice and fingerprint recognition and TV monitoring, all of which could be done remotely by satellite, as well as close up, said Crooke, who was called back to London in 2003 for reasons of "personal security" according to his employers.
The Israelis, he said, preferred to leave the EU out of the standoff and work directly with the US and UK. The UK offered to serve as the prison monitor and the US joined.
Saadat, who now faces trial after being captured by the IDF on Tuesday, became the head of the PFLP only days before Ze'evi was killed in October. He took over from Abu Ali Mustafa, one of the founders of the PFLP and its former head, who was assassinated by Israeli forces seven weeks earlier.
The PFLP said it carried out the assassination of Ze'evi in revenge for the killing of Mustafa. Israel said Saadat had given the orders.
"No evidence was forthcoming at the time," said Crooke. "I don't think anyone knows the nature of the evidence that the Israelis have."