Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat, offered on Friday to put the suspected killers of far-right Israeli Tourism Minister Rehavam Ze'evi on trial in a Palestinian court, but an aide to Ariel Sharon said this did not alter the prime minister's insistence that the assassins be tried in Israel.
"The Palestinian side accepts and welcomes the call by U.S. President George W. Bush to submit those accused of killing Ze'evi to the Palestinian justice (system) since they are subject to Palestinian jurisdiction under Oslo peace accords," Mohammed Rashid, an Arafat adviser, told Reuters.
A spokesman for Sharon said the government would continue to insist that the suspects were handed over for trial in an Israeli court. "That doesn't change anything," Ra'anan Gissin said of the Palestinian offer. "They have to be extradited. If he (Arafat) was going to put them on trial, it should have been long time ago and this does not exonerate him in any way."
"They (the suspects) committed a crime on Israeli soil. They'll be brought to trial in Israel. Instead of arresting them, Arafat gave them sanctuary," Gissin said.
Ze'evi was shot dead at a Jerusalem hotel in October in what the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) said at the time was a reprisal for Israel's assassination of the group's leader Abu Ali Mustafa in Ramallah in August.
Rashid, speaking from Arafat's besieged headquarters in Ramallah, said the suspects had been moved to the presidential compound from a prison in Nablus in February for investigation. He said the Palestinian Authority was willing to allow international monitors to attend the trial.
"We will deal with this file with the utmost seriousness. We will not object to allowing access to the international community so as to affirm the seriousness of the trials and the way the sentences will be carried out," Rashid said.
Rashid described the offer as a compromise which followed "high-level" contacts between the Palestinian Authority and unnamed parties.
© 2002 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)