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Israeli Court Looks at Army Policy Widow Asks Israelis Not to Assassinate Palestinian Leaders

By Mary Curtius

The widow of a Palestinian official gunned down by Israeli troops in the West Bank asked the Israeli Supreme Court on Tuesday to order caretaker Prime Minister Ehud Barak to halt the army’s policy of assassinating suspected Palestinian fighters.

Siham Thabet, wife of dentist Thabet Thabet, argues in her petition that the army could have arrested her husband -- a leader of Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat’s Fatah movement -- if it suspected him of planning attacks on Israeli soldiers and civilians. Instead, he was fatally shot New Year’s Eve as he left his home in Tulkarm. An army spokesman declined to comment on the petition.

The appeal comes as the United States is trying to revive security cooperation between the Israelis and Palestinians amid a continuing shooting war in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Security officials from both sides met in Cairo, Egypt, on Sunday with CIA Director George J. Tenet, and the Palestinians said Tuesday that more such meetings will be held soon. But the Palestinians say they will not work with the Israelis on security issues until the army lifts its blockade of Palestinian towns and villages.

Two more Palestinians were shot and killed Tuesday by soldiers in the West Bank, in separate incidents in the village of Sillet Daher and in the town of Nablus.

In her petition to the Supreme Court, Siham Thabet asks that “the executions without trial, taking ... lives as the result of an operational initiated action and not in the course of war and/or a military action, be declared illegal.” The policy, the petition argues, contradicts Israel’s basic law on human dignity and liberty as well as the Geneva Conventions, which hold an occupying state responsible “for the well-being of the residents” in the occupied territory.

If the Supreme Court accepts the petition, the army could be forced to explain its policy in court. Barak, Deputy Defense Minister Ephraim Sneh and various army spokesmen have said that the army hunts down those who attack Israelis “and the ones who send them” and that it will kill them when they can be found. Palestinians say that at least 20 men have been killed under the policy.

B’Tselem, an Israeli human rights organization, says it knows of 15 people killed since November in the course of “targeted shootings.” Of those, six were bystanders who died when the army used either machine guns or, in one case, a helicopter gunship to fire on wanted men.

“The security forces have the names, and they are going after them,” Yael Stein, head of research for B’Tselem, said Tuesday. “They impose the death penalty with no judicial review, no need to present evidence. The presumption of innocence doesn’t exist here.”

Some left-wing members of Israel’s Knesset, or parliament, have spoken out publicly against the policy, but no member of the government has publicly opposed it.

Few Israelis voiced concerns until Thabet was killed. The 40-year-old activist was well known to members of the Israeli peace movement as a Palestinian who had participated in various reconciliation efforts over the years.

A few dozen activists with Peace Now, an Israeli peace movement, held a vigil outside the Supreme Court on Tuesday to protest the assassination policy and support Siham Thabet’s petition.

“It wasn’t an easy decision for us to speak out about this until Thabet’s death,” said Peace Now spokesman Didi Remez.