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Saturday, 2 September, 2000, 00:18 GMT 01:18 UK
Palestinians jail top Hamas militant
Demonstrators supporting Abu Hanoud
There were demonstrations supporting Abu Hanoud
A Palestinian court has sentenced a top Hamas militant to 12 years imprisonment, officials said on Friday.

Mahmoud Abu Hanoud, 35, who was wounded last week in a bungled raid on his hideout by Israeli security forces, is believed to have been behind several attacks on Israel.

He has topped Israel's most wanted list since two suicide bombing in Jerusalem in 1997.

The court in Gaza found him guilty of "forming military cells" and arming them, Palestinian Attorney General Khalid Al-Qidra told Reuters news agency.


Everything I did was a Jihad for God and... was in the service of Islam and Palestine

Abu Hanoud
The court reached its verdict less than three hours after the trial began.

His trial by a Palestinian court means that Israel cannot demand extradition, according to agreements between the two sides.

Abu Hanoud surrendered to Palestinian security forces last week after narrowly escaping the Israeli raid.

During the attack on Anu Hanoud's hideout three members of an Israeli elite undercover unit died from bullets fired by their own comrades, prompting a top army commander and the leader of the undercover unit to submit their resignations.

Israel is conducting an extensive investigation into the incident.

Palestinian-Israeli peace deals state that if someone wanted by Israel is tried by Palestinian courts, Israel cannot demand extradition.

Appeal to be made

The verdict was rejected by the 100 lawyers who have volunteered to defend Mr Abu Hanoud.

Hamas fighter
Hamas opposes the peace process
"This quick trial is a violation of all principles of law," Mr Hassam Arafat, a spokesman for the lawyers, said.

He said the court had "succumbed to Israeli blackmail" and an appeal would be made.

"We call for a cancellation of the sentence and a retrial in front of a fair court, a civil court," he said.

During the trial Abu Hanoud was represented by a court-appointed lawyer.

Mr Arafat said he only learnt about the trial after it had started from Abu Hanoud's relatives.

The spiritual leader of Hamas, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, said Mr Abu Hanoud should not remain in prison "for one moment" because he had resisted Israeli occupation.

'Jihad' for God

In the court, Mr Abu Hanoud said: "Everything I did was a Jihad [holy struggle] for God and everything I did was in the service of Islam and Palestine."

Abu Hanoud's mother wails her protest after the raid
Abu Hanoud's mother wails her protest after the raid
He said he was pleased with the light sentence, according to a lawyer who visited him, Hosni Kalboni.

The judge said the court had not wanted to put him on trial for acts "against the other side" - a reference to Israel.

But as he had "done illegal things against Palestinian law and interests", the court was bound to deliver its ruling.

Hamas opposes the peace process being pursued by Palestinian and Israeli leaders.

About 2,000 Hamas supporters demonstrated in the West Bank on Friday before the court's verdict was announced.

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See also:

31 Aug 00 | Middle East
'Friendly fire' killed Israeli troops
22 Aug 00 | Middle East
Israel smashes 'Bin Laden ring'
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