Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei promised over the weekend to work toward releasing the assassins of former Tourism Minister Rehavam Ze'evi from prison.
Qurei made the promise during a visit to a Palestinian prison in Jericho, where the assassins are being held. Qurei met with Ahmed Sa'dat, the imprisoned secretary-general of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine [PFLP], who is accused by Israel of masterminding the assassination of Ze'evi in 2001.
Sa'dat is being held without trial and despite a ruling by the PA's High Court of Justice in 2003 that he be released immediately. Another four PFLP activists who took an active role in the assassination are also behind bars in the Jericho facility, including the head of the group's armed wing.
The PFLP said its men killed Ze'evi in retaliation for Israel's killing of its former leader, Abu Ali Mustafa, at his office in Ramallah in August 2001. Following the death of Mustafa, Sa'dat, a resident of Ramallah, was elected as secretary-general of the PFLP.
Sa'dat said he had asked to see Qurei to discuss with him the possibility of releasing him and his friends from prison. He said that he and Qurei agreed to work toward creating "mechanisms" to implement the court decision that calls for Sa'dat's release.
"I discussed with Qurei the general Palestinian situation and the challenges facing our people following the Israeli withdrawal form the Gaza Strip," Sa'dat said, noting that the meeting was held at his request.
Although he did not specify the nature of the "mechanisms" agreed upon to secure his release, as well as that of his colleagues, Sa'dat said he reached an agreement with Qurei to start implementing the court ruling.
He also pointed out that Ahed Abu Ghulamah, the imprisoned commander of the PFLP's armed wing who was allegedly involved in the assassination, had been sentenced to one year in prison by a Palestinian court. Although Abu Ghulamah's prison term ended more than three years ago, the PA, citing security concerns, has refused to release him.
Qurei also met in the Jericho prison with Gen. Fuad Shobaki, who is also being held without trial for his role in the botched attempt to smuggle the weapons ship Karin A into the Gaza Strip in 2001. The Palestinian High Court had also ordered the release of Shobaki from prison. However, the PA has refused to comply for fear that Israel would try to arrest him or kill him.
Israel has repeatedly threatened to arrest any of the Jericho inmates once they walk out of prison. Ze'evi's assassins recently turned down a proposal by the PA to be transferred to the Gaza Strip an idea that has been strongly rejected by Israel.
In another development, Islamic Jihad prisoners held in the Jericho prison without trial are threatening to go on hunger strike to protest against their continued detention. At least seven Jihad members have been in prison since the suicide attack at the Stage nightclub in Tel Aviv earlier this year.
The family of another Palestinian inmate from the village of Azzariyeh near Ma'aleh Adumim appealed over the weekend to PA chairman Mahmoud Abbas to release him from prison in Jericho. The 25-year-old man has been in detention for 45 days on suspicion of beating Ibrahim Salameh, director of the office of PA Interior Minister Nasser Youssef. According to the family, their son was tortured by his interrogators and denied the right to see a lawyer.