TEL AVIV, Israel – An Israeli court on Sunday sent popular Palestinian leader Marwan Barghouti (search) to prison for life for his role in deadly attacks on Israelis, sidelining a possible successor to Yasser Arafat (search).
Barghouti was given five consecutive life terms and 40 years — the maximum sentence — after he was convicted last month of involvement in shootings that killed four Israelis and a Greek monk. The ruling said Barghouti was "involved up to his neck in terror activity."
Before the sentencing, Barghouti rejected the right of the court to judge him, to the cheers of supporters in the courtroom. "The Israeli courts are a partner to the Israeli occupation," Barghouti said. "The judges are just like pilots who fly planes and drop bombs."
Barghouti was the West Bank leader of Fatah (search), the mainstream Palestinian political force. Among the most popular leaders of the young generation, Barghouti, 45, has been mentioned as one of the possible successors to Arafat, with whom he has had a stormy relationship.
Israel charged that Barghouti was also a leader of the Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades (search), a violent offshoot of Fatah, supplying funds and weapons to militants who carried out dozens of shooting and bombing attacks, killing and wounding hundreds of Israelis. The ruling said Arafat encouraged attacks against Israelis but did not order them specifically.
For years the small, energetic Barghouti was a close ally of Israeli peace activists, advocating creation of a Palestinian state living side by side with Israel. However, with the outbreak of violence in September 2000, Barghouti became a strident backer of resistance against Israeli occupation.
Though he defended attacks against Jewish settlers and soldiers in the West Bank, he insisted that he did not actively encourage violence.
In their ruling Sunday, the three judges scoffed at Barghouti's claim to be a man of peace. Barghouti's "path to peace follows the bloody route of terrorism," they wrote.
Israeli forces abducted him from the West Bank city of Ramallah (search) in April 2002. He was the first Palestinian political leader to be tried in an Israeli civilian court.
Last month, he was convicted of a role in three shooting attacks that killed a Greek Orthodox monk in the West Bank in 2001; an Israeli near the Givat Zeev settlement in the West Bank in 2002; and three people at a Tel Aviv (search) restaurant in 2002.
He was also given two consecutive terms of 20 years each for a botched car bombing at a Jerusalem mall and membership in a terror organization.
The judges regretted that they could not, under Israeli law, convict him of the other attacks carried out by Fatah militants, because the evidence did not point to direct involvement.
Barghouti "was the leader of a terror group" and "carries heavy moral responsibility for the deaths of many people" beyond the five for which he was convicted, they wrote.
Barghouti's wife, Fadwa, dismissed the verdict. "This is a court of occupation, pursuing its role as tool from the many tools of the Israeli occupation," she said.
Palestinian Cabinet minister Saeb Erekat said the Palestinian Authority (search) does not recognize the court decision. "Israeli courts have no jurisdiction over an elected Palestinian official like Marwan Barghouti or anybody else, and we demand his immediate release," Erekat said.
Outside the courtroom, Palestinian legislator Hater Abdel Khader denounced the court decision. "It is a message for Palestinians to continue the uprising and to resist the occupation," he said.