The Arab league yesterday condemned British and United States collusion with Israel, after Israel attacked a Jericho prison containing six Palestinian militants, 20 minutes after UK and US monitors left.
Just 20 minutes after the British and US monitors withdrew, on the excuse of ‘deteriorating security’, Israeli forces launched an assault on the compound containing the Jericho jail using artillery, tanks, helicopter gunship missile strikes and air strikes.
Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas condemned the Israeli raid and Britain and America’s role, saying the withdrawal of the monitors was a grave violation of agreements with the Palestinians.
Israeli bulldozers smashed down the compound to reach the jail, and prisoners were seen being taken away in their underpants.
One Palestinian security guard was killed and 18 others wounded in fierce fighting as Israeli troops called through loudspeakers on Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) leader Ahmed Saadat and five of his comrades to surrender.
But Saadat, leading his five PLFP comrades refused, and they were holding out in a part of the jail.
Speaking by cellular phone from inside the prison, Saadat told Aljazeera TV: ‘We will not surrender, we will fight.
‘Either we die or win. We will face death with courage and honour.’
British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw confirmed to MPs yesterday that the Israelis had been informed last week that the monitors were withdrawing. This gave the Israelis plenty of time to prepare yesterday’s brutal assault.
However, when challenged by Labour MP Peter Kilfoyle to condemn the Israeli attack on unarmed prisoners using tanks, artillery and rockets, Straw refused.
Saadat’s British lawyer said he is considering bringing a war crimes case against the British government over its collusion.
Lawyer Daniel Machover said: ‘In my view, the Israeli authorities are completely lawless when it comes to people like Mr Saadat, and I fear for his life today.’
Machover added that telling the Israelis of the UK and US monitors’ withdrawal had ‘led to this current risk to my client, that he’s about to be killed’.
He said: ‘I’m very concerned about the British government’s decision making in this, which will be put, I hope, to the highest scrutiny by parliament and possibly the courts in this country, because the monitors may have by their actions aided and abetted a grave breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which is a war crime.’
Newly elected Hamas leaders had said they would release Saadat. But Israel has, since 2002, threatened to hunt down and kill him if he were released.
Saadat and three other PFLP members were jailed by the PNA on suspicion of killing of far-right Israeli tourism minister Rehavam Zeevi in 2001. They have been held in Jericho, under UK and US and supervision, since August 2002.
Palestinian President Abbas said last week he was prepared to release him if the PFLP guaranteed his security.
Yesterday’s Israeli operation drew a furious response from Hamas prime minister-designate Ismail Haniya, and there were angry demonstrations across the West Bank, while in Gaza Palestinians set fire to the British Council compound and also stormed an EU monitors’ compound.
• Late yesterday Israeli officials said Saadat and five other militants had been captured and were being held in Israeli custody.