PA trial for U.S. convoy bomb suspects moved to civilian court
The trial of four Palestinians charged in the deadly bombing of a U.S. diplomatic convoy in Gaza has been moved from a military panel to a civilian court after U.S. criticism and protests by supporters of the suspects.
Palestinian sources said on Friday the Palestinian Authority's announcement of the change on Thursday was prompted by popular anger after the men appeared before a hastily convened military panel last Saturday.
The United States had been pressuring the Palestinian Authority to bring to justice those responsible for the roadside bombing in October that killed three U.S. security men.
But U.S. Ambassador to Israel Daniel Kurtzer criticized the decision to try the four suspects - members of a coalition of militants - in a military court, saying proceedings should be open.
Hundreds of militants and their supporters staged a protest march against the Palestinian Authority in Gaza on Tuesday, accusing it of bowing to U.S. demands and urging President Yasser Arafat to free the defendants.
Major-General Saeb Al-Ajez, appointed by Arafat to lead the security investigation of the case, told Reuters the trial had been transferred to a civilian court to ensure "all legal procedures are adhered to."
Palestinian civilian trials are usually open to the public, defendants have better access to their lawyers and sentences are usually less severe than those meted down by military tribunals.
The four men, members of the Popular Resistance Committees (PRC), have denied any connection with the bombing. Their trial was scheduled to resume on February 29.
"We need to clarify the decision with the Palestinian Authority but initially it was a good step to cancel the military court as we have demanded," a PRC spokesman said.