Israel angry over calls to free Jordanian killer

Israel summoned Jordan's envoy Tuesday to express anger over the Jordanian Justice Minister's call to free a soldier who killed seven Israeli schoolgirls in 1997.

Israel expressed "revulsion and shock at the statements of the minister, especially since they were made by the person entrusted with law and justice," Israel's Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

The Jordanian envoy was informed that Israel "expects the Jordanian government to immediately and unequivocally denounce the minister's statement," the ministry said.

Jordan and Israel have a peace treaty, but relations in recent years have been cool.

On Monday, Justice Minister Hussein Mjali joined a protest in Amman calling for the release of Cpl. Ahmed Daqamseh. The soldier is serving a life sentence for killing the eighth-graders, who were on a school outing near the border between the two countries when he opened fire with an automatic rifle. Seven other girls were wounded.

Mjali, who served in the past as the soldier's attorney, told cheering supporters, "I'm committed to be here with you as his lawyer." In comments that particularly angered Israelis, he was quoted as calling the soldier a "hero" who "does not deserve to be in prison."

A Jordanian government spokesman said the minister was not representing the government but "has the right to express himself."

The attack came three years after Israel and Jordan signed a peace agreement in 1994, after years of unofficial ties. Jordan's King Hussein — the late father of the current king, Abdullah II — rushed to Israel and paid condolence visits to the girls' families, a gesture that touched many Israelis and did much to defuse the crisis.

In a trial, the soldier avoided the death penalty because the court ruled he was mentally unstable.

The envoy summoned Tuesday was the Jordanian Embassy charge d'affaires. Jordan has not had a permanent ambassador in Israel since the former envoy was promoted to information minister last summer.

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Associated Press writer Jamal Halaby contributed from Amman, Jordan.