Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has asked Washington to mediate with Israel for the release of arch-terrorist Marwan Barghouti, who is serving five life sentences for his role in a series of suicide bombings and shootings.
Any move to free such a notorious terrorist as Barghouti would probably ignite a political firestorm in Israel. But Abbas believes it would boost his standing at home and give him domestic cover to continue talks with Israel.
A Palestinian official said Abbas had written to the United States asking them to bring about the release of Barghouti and two other high-profile terrorists — Ahmed Sa’adat and Fouad al-Shobaki. Sa’adat heads a faction that killed Israeli cabinet minister Rechavam Zevi in 2001. He is serving a 30-year sentence for allegedly participating in attacks. Shobaki planned an attempt to smuggle a large shipment of weapons to the Palestinians on a ship that was intercepted by Israeli naval commandos in 2002.
“The president renewed his demand during the recent meetings in Washington,” said Qadoura Fares, chairman of the Palestinian Prisoner Club, referring to Abbas’s trip to Washington this week to discuss the shaky peace process with President Barack Obama.
Barghouti, now 54, is regarded as a hero among Palestinians, and has been talked about as a possible successor to the 78-year-old Abbas. He was a leader of the first and second intifadas. The Palestinians claim that Barghouti is a politician who had no direct involvement in any of the killings.
There was no immediate comment from Israel on the Palestinian request.
Palestinian official Nabil Shaath threatened that if Israel does not carry out the final scheduled prisoner release, the Palestinians will resume their campaign for U.N. recognition and seek legal action against Israel in international courts.
Israeli officials have been pointing out in recent days that the commitment to free prisoners was contingent on significant progress in the peace talks, which has so far not materialized.