Blair blames PA for prisoner deal collapse

Sa'adat's lawyers tell 'Post' they suspect collusion between US, Britain and Israel.

blair face 88 (photo credit: )
blair face 88
(photo credit: )
Prime Minister Tony Blair laid the blame Wednesday for the collapse of the Ramallah Agreement squarely upon the Palestinian Authority, rejecting suggestions that Britain had deceived the PA by removing its personnel from the Jericho Monitoring Mission on Tuesday morning. Lawyers for PFLP leader Ahmed Saadat remain unconvinced. They told The Jerusalem Post they suspected collusion between the US, Britain and Israel to turn their client over to Israel. They also said they feared Israel might kill Saadat while he was in custody. Backbench MP's were skeptical as well, saying the pullout had damaged Britain's reputation for fairness in the region. During the weekly prime minister's question time in the House of Commons, Blair explained that British and US monitors had been placed in Jericho as a result of the 2002 Ramallah Agreement, "whereby people charged with serious offenses, including assassination of Israeli politicians, would be kept in this detention center and we would monitor their detention." The prime minister said, "These monitors were unarmed civilians whose role was not to police or be prison wardens but to monitor that the correct procedures were being implemented." Under the terms of the Ramallah Agreement the "Palestinians would take charge of the detention but it would be independently monitored by us." he said. Britain had honored its agreement "every inch of the way" and its repeated warnings had been proof "of our good faith, not our bad faith," Blair told the House. "Proper detention procedures were not being observed on the Palestinian side," the prime minister said. The Foreign Office warned the PA for three months that security was "not adequate and proper," Blair said. On Tuesday, Foreign Secretary Jack Straw told the House of Commons his concerns over security at the Jericho prison began more than a year ago. While he supported the withdrawal of the monitors, Conservative Party leader David Cameron questioned the British government's handling of the dispute with the PA, saying he was "deeply concerned" by the violence. He asked Blair whether he was "satisfied that the consequences of withdrawing the monitors were properly thought through." Blair said his government had warned PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas that "this is a serious situation. You have to act." "The idea that this was either precipitate or uncalled for or unthought through is simply wrong," he said. Several backbench MPs objected to the pullout and denounced the Israeli operation. Phyllis Starkey, Labor MP for Milton Keynes South West, said Britain now had a "shattered reputation" as an honest broker in the region, while another Labor MP Tuesday told the House the Israeli siege of the Jericho prison was "state-supported terrorism." Saadat's London attorney, Kate Maynard, criticized Blair, telling the Post the British government should have withdrawn its monitors "in such a way as to preserve my client's liberty and safety." "The role of the British monitors in what happened in the prison yesterday should be very carefully scrutinized by Parliament," she said, and "will be scrutinized in court." "I am deeply concerned with any complicity between the British and Israelis in what happened," she said. In the past, the US and British monitors made demands "upon my client and others, knowing full well they would capitulate because [the monitor's] leaving would lead to [their] almost certain death," Maynard said. Britain may have been "criminally culpable" over the seizure of Saadat, Maynard said. She said the "monitors reported on my client's every move to the Israelis" and notified the Israelis they were leaving, "giving them the green light to go in" and carry out Tuesday's raid. Maynard said she had spoken with Saadat about possible legal remedies under British human rights law on March 8. "My initial instructions were to get the role of the British in my client's unlawful detention terminated," she said. Maynard said she had received no response her requests to the British and Israeli governments to provide Saadat access to his lawyers, and expressed concern that the British government had not provided her with a copy of the Ramallah Agreement, outlining the terms of his captivity in Jericho. "I am concerned he may be tortured" while in custody, Maynard said. "In the past, Israelis have detained suspects and have gone on to kill them," she said.