PA Accused of Trying To Appease Hamas With Death Sentence

By Julie Stahl | July 7, 2008 | 8:12 PM EDT

Jerusalem ( - The Palestinian Authority tried and sentenced to death an alleged collaborator within a few hours - an attempt by Yasser Arafat to appease Hamas, an Israeli lawyer said on Friday.

Tensions between Hamas and the PA in the Gaza Strip have escalated over the last 10 days, ever since the head of Arafat's riot police in Gaza was assassinated by a Hamas militant.

The murder of Colonel Rajeh Abu Lihyeh was said to be in retaliation for the involvement of Lihyeh in the deaths of several Gaza residents affiliated with Hamas.

After seven years in prison, Walid Hamdiya was taken from his cell this week and brought to Palestinian Intelligence headquarters, where he was tried in a closed session of the Palestinian security court.

Hamdiya was convicted and sentenced to death by firing squad after a trial that lasted only a few hours.

Human rights groups have condemned such trials of accused collaborators in the past and called on the PA to give a "fair trial" to anyone accused of collaborating with Israel.

Several Palestinians have already been executed and several others are waiting to see if Arafat, who must sign the orders himself, will give the go ahead.

Although there are not official numbers, estimates say there are some 200 Palestinians being held in PA jails, all accused of collaborating with Israel.

Hamdiya, a senior Hamas member, was arrested in 1995 and accused of working as an undercover agent for Israel's security services for 15 years.

Tel Aviv lawyer Nitsana Darshan-Leitner, who was asked several times by the PA to defend accused collaborators, charged on Friday that Hamdiya's sudden and lightening trial was an attempt by Arafat to calm tensions between Hamas and PA police.

"The sudden trial and death sentence given to Walid Hamdiya today is a desperate attempt by Arafat to appease the Hamas leadership," Darshan-Leitner said in a statement.

"After seven years of allowing Hamdiya to languish in his cell without any legal proceeding, Arafat now finds it politically necessary to offer him up as a blood sacrifice to [Hamas spiritual leader] Sheik [Ahmed] Yassin," she said.

Last month, Akram Mohammed al-Zatma, a 22-year-old student who was accused of collaborating with Israel, was taken from a PA prison and delivered to masked Hamas gunmen. His body was discovered later in a garbage bin in Gaza.

Vatican Ambassador here Monsignor Pietro Sambi had interceded with the PA to try to save al-Zatma's life but his appeals went unheeded.

See earlier stories:
PA Turns Accused Collaborator Over to Hamas For Execution (24 Sept. 2002)
Accused Palestinian Collaborators Unlikely to Get Fair Trials (2 Sept. 2002)