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Saadat says not involved in killing Israeli minister

Written by: Staff

RAMALLAH, West Bank, Mar 16 (Reuters) A Palestinian militant leader seized by Israel in a raid on a West Bank jail denied any responsibility for his group's 2001 assassination of an Israeli cabinet minister, his lawyer today said.

''I reject the accusations,'' Ahmed Saadat was quoted as saying by his attorney, who met the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) chief at an Israeli detention centre in Jerusalem.

Israel has said Saadat, taken into custody during an operation at a Jericho prison on Tuesday, gave the orders for the killing of cabinet minister Rehavam Zeevi. The PFLP said it shot Zeevi to avenge Israel's killing of one of its leaders.

Four members of a PFLP cell convicted by a Palestinian court in 2002 of carrying out the assassination were also seized by Israeli troops at the jail after a day-long siege.

Saadat was jailed by the Palestinians in connection with the assassination but was never convicted of the charge.

At a news conference, Saadat's attorney, Mahmoud Hassan, relayed defiant comments he said his client made to Israeli interrogators.

''I told the interrogators I do not recognise any interrogation,'' Hassan quoted Saadat, 51, as saying. ''This is illegal. I rejected my presence in their jails as illegal.'' Israeli forces besieged the Jericho facility, where Saadat was being held since 2002 under an international agreement, to bring the militant to Israel for trial after Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said he was prepared to free him.

The troops moved in after US and British monitors supervising Saadat's incarceration left the jail.

The United States and Britain, citing security concerns, said they had informed Abbas a week ago the monitors could be withdrawn immediately. Washington and London denied any coordination with Israel over its raid.

Abbas described the Israeli operation as a crime that would not be forgiven.

US Consul-General Jacob Wallace met Abbas today and told reporters: ''We explained the reasons why we removed the monitors, which was because of our concerns about their security, and he expressed his concerns of the event.'' The monitors were stationed at the jail under an arrangement that ended a 2002 Israeli siege of Yasser Arafat's compound in the West Bank city of Ramallah, where Saadat and the other PFLP men were taking refuge.


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