TEL AVIV, Israel – Palestinian uprising leader Marwan Barghouti (search), widely seen as a potential successor to Yasser Arafat (search), was convicted Thursday of ordering shootings that killed four Israelis and a Greek monk and supplying funds and arms for other attacks.
Israeli troops pressed their offensive in a Gaza Strip (search) refugee camp for a third day, killing eight Palestinians, most of them armed, and demolishing several buildings. In the West Bank, three Palestinians were killed by army fire.
The Tel Aviv District Court convicted the 44-year-old Barghouti of five counts of murder, one count of attempted murder and one count of membership in a terrorist group. The prosecution asked for five consecutive life terms. Sentencing is set for June 6.
The three judges cleared Barghouti of responsibility for 21 other deaths, ruling there was no evidence directly connecting him to those attacks.
At the time of his arrest in April 2002, Barghouti headed Arafat's Fatah movement in the West Bank. Israel said Barghouti also played a leading role in Fatah's violent offshoot, the Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, which has carried out scores of attacks on Israelis over the past three years.
The court said Arafat looked to Barghouti to carry out his wishes, including attacks, giving legal weight for the first time to the Israeli government position that Arafat has been orchestrating violence.
"Yasser Arafat did not give clear and precise instructions, but he made sure that those under him understood fully when he was interested in a cease-fire and when he was interested in attacks against Israel," the ruling said.
Arafat and his aides have denied the Israeli allegations.
In response to Barghouti's conviction, Al Aqsa leaders in the Gaza Strip threatened to kidnap Israelis in hopes of exchanging them for their jailed leader.
Barghouti reiterated Thursday that he does not accept the court's authority. He also said he believes there will be peace if Israel withdraws from the West Bank and Gaza.
"I call on the Israeli public, 'Don't believe for one moment that you can overcome the Palestinians with force,"' he said. "Palestinians have no power, but they have justice on their side."
"One day, the Palestinians will gain their liberty and freedom and Marwan, too, will be free," said Barghouti's wife Fadwa, who was not allowed to enter Israel for the trial.
Meanwhile, in the Rafah refugee camp in southern Gaza, Israel continued its offensive despite international condemnation over a deadly tank attack that killed eight Palestinian protesters, most of them children, on Wednesday. Israel apologized for the shooting, which also wounded 50 people.
By Thursday, the army had moved into five neighborhoods in the camp, which is home to about 90,000 Palestinians. Light exchanges of fire were reported, and Israel helicopter gunships flew overhead.
Eight Palestinians were killed Thursday when helicopters and tanks targeted groups of militants. One of the dead was a local Hamas leader who was about to plant explosives when he was killed in a missile strike.
A man wounded last week in fighting on the edge of Gaza City, died Wednesday in the city's main hospital, doctors said.
Residents said troops demolished eight homes overnight, and said bulldozers moved into the Brazil area of the camp Thursday, knocking down two homes and a shop.
The army has no immediate comment. It has said it only targets homes that provide cover for weapons smuggling tunnels or gunmen.
Israel raided the refugee camp less than a week after Palestinian militants killed 13 soldiers in Gaza, seven of them along the Egyptian border.
In the West Bank, troops shot and killed three Palestinians, including a 13-year-old boy and a local Hamas leader, in separate clashes. In the incident involving the boy, the army said soldiers fired at someone throwing a firebomb.