JERUSALEM (AP) – An Israeli court on Friday charged four Palestinian militants in the 2001 assassination of a Cabinet minister, two months after troops snatched the men in a brazen military raid on a Palestinian jail in the West Bank.
The suspects, members of the radical Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, did not comment to reporters as they entered the court. Two of the men smiled to cameras and looked to be in good spirits.
In a closed hearing, the men were charged with murder, membership in a terrorist group and handling explosives for terrorist purposes, Israeli media said. Their next court date is scheduled June 8.
The men were rounded up during a 10-hour Israeli invasion of a Palestinian prison in Jericho on March 14. Israel launched the operation after the new Hamas-led Palestinian government said it would release the men.
The suspects are accused of carrying out the murder of Rehavam Zeevi, who was gunned down in a Jerusalem hotel in 2001.
PFLP leader Ahmed Saadat was also arrested in the March raid. But Israel’s attorney general has said there wasn’t enough evidence to prosecute him in the Zeevi killing.
Saadat remains in Israeli custody and will be tried separately in a military court for unspecified security offenses.
Saadat spent more than three years in the Jericho prison based on Israeli accusations he had masterminded the assassination.
The PFLP claimed responsibility for the assassination, saying it was in retaliation for Israel’s killing of its leader. Saadat was named leader of the military group days before Zeevi’s killing.
After years of insisting Saadat was behind the murder, Attorney General Meni Mazuz’s inability to find the necessary evidence to put him on trial was an embarrassment to Israel, experts said.
A sixth suspect snatched from the Jericho prison, Fuad Shobaki, the alleged financier of an illegal weapons shipment to the Palestinians several years ago, will also be tried in a military court.
Saadat and the other suspects were supervised in the Jericho prison by American and British wardens under the terms of an unusual 2002 arrangement. Israel stormed the prison just after the wardens left.