Two senior officers of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement received jail terms Saturday by the Beirut military court for attempting to set up an armed gang to carry out "terrorist acts."
Fatah's chief officer in Lebanon, Sultan Abul Aynain, received a 10-year jail sentence in absentia. The Fatah official for the eastern Bekaa Valley, Nayef Ahmad Othman, was in court to hear his six-month sentence handed down.
Abul Aynain and Othman were accused of "attempting to set up an armed gang in Kfarshuba a week after the liberation (from Israeli occupation in May) with the objective of carrying out terrorist acts," court officials said.
Abul Aynain has also been found guilty of arms trafficking, they added.
Kfarshuba is at the edge of the disputed Shabaa Farms, a mountainous region along the Lebanese-Syrian borders occupied by Israel since 1967, and which has witnessed Lebanese resistance attacks since the Israeli troop pullout from southern Lebanon after 22 years of occupation.
During the trial, Othman denied attempting to form an "armed gang," saying Fatah was only trying to open an office for the group in Kfarshuba.
The Beirut military court also acquitted Kfarshuba resident, Lebanese Ali Yussef al-Kadri, on the same charges. He had been held along with Othman since June.
On April 26, Abul Aynain received a two-year sentence in absentia. Two other high-ranking Fateh officials -- Taha Abdel Qader, known as Khaled Aref, and Taysir Qaddura -- were given prison terms of nine months each by the military court for "insulting the reputation of the (Lebanese) army."
Aref, Fateh’s commander in the port city of Sidon, was arrested in November 1999. His deputy, Qaddura, Fateh’s security officer for the region, was detained in the Ain al-Helweh refugee camp in January.
Abul Aynain has been holed up in the Rashidiyeh refugee camp near the southern city of Tyre since he was sentenced to death in his absence in October 1999 for "setting up an armed gang with the aim of committing crimes against civilians and their goods, and damaging the Lebanese state and its authority."
The Lebanese authorities started taking legal action against Arafat supporters after Fateh announced in October 1999, after several years of decline, that it was to offer military training.
The United Nations puts the number of Palestinians in Lebanon at some 367,000, nearly half of them in 12 camps scattered across the country.
Fatah has a public presence only in the southern camps, where the Syrian army, which is deployed over three quarters of Lebanese territory, is not present – BEIRUT (AFP)
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