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Thursday, 5 September, 2002, 21:41 GMT 22:41 UK
Intifada leader rejects Israeli court
Marwan Barghouti in court
Barghouti said he was a political prisoner
A senior leader of the Palestinian uprising has refused to recognise Israeli jurisdiction at the start of his trial on charges of terrorism.

Marwan Barghouti, who heads Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's Fatah faction in the West Bank, insists he is an elected politician not a criminal.

He rejected the indictment read to him at the Tel Aviv court, which accused him of dozens of attacks in Israel, shouting: "I am a freedom fighter, I am a member of parliament."


You have no right to put me on trial. The state of Israel should be on trial

Marwan Barghouti

Israel hopes the trial - the first of its kind of a prominent figure in the two-year-old uprising - will show the complicity of the Palestinian Authority in attacks by Palestinian militants.

Mr Barghouti's open defiance of the Israeli authorities has boosted his prestige among ordinary Palestinians who see him as a possible successor to Yasser Arafat.

'Fighter for peace'

Appearing in court unshaven and handcuffed, Mr Barghouti said he did not want to hear the charges against him and would not be represented by a lawyer.

Children demonstrating for the release of Barghouti
Barghouti is popular with young Palestinians

"I don't recognise this court. This is a court of the occupation," he told the panel of judges.

"You have no right to put me on trial. The state of Israel should be on trial," he said, adding that he was a fighter for peace.

One of the judges commented that "fighters for peace don't plant bombs", to which Mr Barghouti replied: "I don't want to get into that."

Mr Barghouti has said he will use the proceedings to draw attention to what described as Israeli crimes against Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Packed courtroom

The court was crowded with reporters, politicians and demonstrators.

Mr Barghouti's children were there, but were stopped from approaching him.

Israeli Brigitte Kesler, holding a picture of her daughter Gili Shara, who was killed by Palestinian militants
Families of victims shouted at Barghouti
Relatives of Israeli victims of Palestinian attacks were also present, holding up photos of their family members who had been killed.

The father of one of the people killed in an attack allegedly commanded by Mr Barghouti shouted from the auditorium: "Freedom fighters are supposed to attack soldiers, but you murdered my son."

Israel says Mr Barghouti financed and encouraged attacks which killed and wounded dozens of Israelis.

If found guilty of the charges against him, Mr Barghouti faces life in prison.

The hearing was adjourned until 3 October, when Mr Barghouti's lawyers say they will be beside him "to put the occupation on trial".

Attacks

His court appearance comes a day after Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said that for the first time he could see the possibility of a political settlement with the Palestinians.

But is was on the day at least three people were killed in separate attacks against Israeli forces in the Gaza Strip.

A bomb exploded under an Israeli tank near a refugee camp, killing at least one Israeli soldier.

Another died elsewhere in the Strip, when a Palestinian fired on a patrol before being shot dead himself.

As violence flared in Gaza, the Israelis said they had foiled an attempt to smuggle a massive car bomb from the West Bank into northern Israel.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's James Reynolds
"This is about the best career move Barghouti could have made"

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14 Aug 02 | Middle East
14 Aug 02 | Middle East
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