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Last Updated: Monday, 13 June, 2005, 15:52 GMT 16:52 UK
Outrage at Palestinian executions
Palestinian police on guard outside Gaza court
The Palestinian Authority says it wants to strengthen the rule of law
Human rights bodies have urged Palestinian authorities to outlaw the death penalty after it executed four convicts in Gaza on Sunday.

A European rights watchdog said the penalty was unjust, echoing concerns voiced by Palestinian activists.

But Palestinian officials say the death penalty is needed to curb lawlessness.

The executions were the first since new Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas pledged to end a three-year moratorium on the death penalty in February.

Four men who had confessed to murders in a Gaza court were killed on Sunday - three by hanging, one by firing squad.

"These individuals killed innocent human beings and by executing them we applied our law," Palestinian Attorney General Hussain Abu Aasi told the AFP news agency.

"Even the most democratic state in the world, America, invokes this kind of punishment," he said.

Social problems

Rene van der Linden, head of the Council of Europe's parliamentary assembly, said: "The death penalty will not help to curb violence."

"Death is not justice and will never be", he said.

Raji al-Surani, director of the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights also attacked the policy of executions.

"Executions cannot solve our security and social problems," he said.

Until Sunday, nine death sentences had been carried out since the formation of the Palestinian Authority in 1994 - out of 70 imposed by the courts, according to Mr Surani's centre.

Late leader Yasser Arafat stopped authorising executions in 2002 following international criticism of the measure.

In February, Mr Abbas - responding to pressure from Palestinians to end "security chaos" in the Gaza Strip - asked the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Sheikh Ikrima Sabri, for an Islamic legal ruling on the death penalty.

Sheikh Sabri was asked to review 51 cases - about half concerning alleged collaborators with Israel, an especially sensitive issue, correspondents say.

The grand mufti recommended a resumption of executions saying a delay of the execution orders "encouraged the phenomenon of revenge in the Palestinian community".

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