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Tuesday, 5 February, 2002, 22:30 GMT
Courtroom mob kills three Palestinians
A crowd gathers to watch the execution of Palestinian collaborators
Collaborator executions often draw large crowds
Two dozen gunmen leading an angry mob have stormed into a Palestinian courtroom and shot dead three defendants who had been convicted in a murder trial moments earlier.

The men were cornered in the toilet of the makeshift courtroom in the West Bank town of Jenin, as police tried to hide them.

Palestinian police station in Jenin after Israeli attack
Israeli attacks have destroyed Jenin's security installations
The gunmen then fired dozens of bullets at the three men and dragged their bodies into the street, firing into the air, a security official said.

The defendants had been convicted of the murder last week of a Palestinian security official.

The murdered man, Osama Qmeil, had been responsible for killing suspected collaborators with Israel.

Angry mob

A crowd of Mr Qmeil's friends and relatives had gathered outside the Chamber of Commerce where the trial was being held.

Witnesses said news that all three defendants had been given prison sentences, rather than two of them being sentenced to death, had heightened the mob's anger.

Each of the defendants had been sentenced to 15 years in prison.

Witnesses told the Associated Press news agency that most of the assailants were members of the Palestinian security services or of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement.

Other reports said the gunmen were posing as Palestinian police officers.


This was the latest incident in a bloody clan feud spanning a decade.

As an activist during the 1987-1993 Palestinian intifada, Mr Qmeil had been behind the deaths of six members of his own clan accused of collaborating with Israel.

The three defendants, who were also members of the clan, had told the judge they had killed Mr Qmeil in revenge.

Law hindered

They said they felt the Palestinian security services were weak and they expected to get away with killing Mr Qmeil.

The BBC's Barbara Plett in Jerusalem says revenge attacks are not uncommon in Palestinian society, but attempts to keep law and order are being hindered by Israeli military attacks on Palestinian institutions.

The trial was taking place in the Chamber of Commerce because all of Jenin's security installations have been destroyed by Israeli air strikes.

The BBC's Barbara Plett
"This was the latest in a series of bloody events spanning a decade"
See also:

22 Jan 01 | From Our Own Correspondent
Question of betrayal
30 Nov 01 | issues
The running of Palestine
13 Aug 01 | Middle East
Palestinians crack down on collaborators
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