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Three members of the so-called Bat Ayin Jewish terror cell who were convicted earlier this month of attempted murder were handed sentences yesterday ranging from 12 to 15 years in prison.

The Jerusalem District Court sentenced Shlomo Zeliger Dvir and Ofer Gamliel to 15 years each, while a third man, Yarden Morag, was handed a reduced 12-year term because he cooperated with investigators.

The three, all residents of the West Bank settlement of Bat Ayin, had been convicted of trying to set off a bomb near a girls' school in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of A-Tur, as well as illegal weapons possession.

Their defense attorney complained about the sentence, saying that Arab would-be suicide bombers are given lighter sentences than his clients.

In their verdict, judges Moshe Ravid, Yaffa Hecht and Jacob Zaban wrote that the three terror cell members "decided to commit a major terror attack that would cause many casualties among the Arab residents of East Jerusalem by means of a booby-trapped cart that they prepared and left in a crowded place, at the entrance to a girls school and to Mokassad Hospital in East Jerusalem."

During their interrogations, the verdict continued, the three "made many detailed statements that included confessions of having committed the crimes attributed to them. We have no doubt that the confessions of Yarden Morag and Shlomo Dvir are truthful."

Morag and Dvir were caught by a policeman on patrol while they were leaving the cart, on April 29, 2002.

"The defendants worked for months to prepare the bomb and put it together, held discussions about the bomb's composition ... [and] took the trouble to conduct exploratory missions in order to find an `attractive' site at which to set off the bomb and to determine an appropriate time, one at which there are a large number of passersby at the site," the judges wrote.

"They conducted another patrol after daylight savings time went into effect in order to determine whether they needed to change the planned time, lest they miss the hour at which the street is crowded, and even canceled the departure planned for Thursday night for fear that the street would be empty of people on Friday. The site destined for the attack was picked with care. There are no police or Border Police patrols there, and Jews avoid it."

"The defendants were also careful to avoid any marks that could identify them. They compartmentalized, took care to wipe away their fingerprints and took care to work with gloves. They bought gasoline in small quantities each time in order to avoid suspicion ... The defendants placed two explosive bricks, two containers of cooking gas and two barrels containing a mixture of oil, gasoline and screws on the cart in order to multiply the effect of the attack. Finally, one wall of the cart was removed in order to focus the shock waves and prevent them from being dispersed."

All of these things, the judges concluded, "attest to an effort by the defendants to injure and kill people - passersby and students coming to the school to study. And not in vain was Ofer Gamliel brought into the group; he towed the cart, using the security vehicle of the settlement of Bat Ayin" - to which the group had access because Morag's father was the settlement's security officer.

The judges rejected the claim made by the defendants and their lawyers that "they only wanted to ignite a pyre and create a media effect, with the bomb neutralized. In order to ignite a pyre, there is no need for hundreds of liters of oil, two explosive bricks, two containers of cooking gas and a quantity of screws ... The defendants intended a bombing that would injure and kill Arabs as an act of vengeance for the terror attacks against Jews, and to send a message that every coin has two sides."

Two other people suspected of belonging to the Bat Ayin cell are being tried separately: Yosef Ben Baruch, who has also been charged with attempted murder, and Noam Federman, accused of illegal weapons possession. Their trials are still in progress.