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The Haifa District Court yesterday handed down stiff prison sentences of nine to 20 years to four men, who were convicted of raping and performing sexual offenses on four young women, one of whom was a 13-year-old girl. The men, in their twenties, are all from the Galilee.

The plea bargain that constituted the basis for the sentence, convicted the four men from the village Bir al-Maksur of abducting the women for the purpose of performing a sexual offense, conspiracy to commit a crime and making threats. All crimes had taken place between December 2005 and November last year.

The primary defendant, Salam Khujirat, received the harshest sentence of 20 years in jail and a suspended sentence of three years imprisonment. He was sentenced to an additional prison term of 18 months for an earlier robbery.

Salam Khujirat's cousin, Alah, was sentenced to 15 years in prison and a three-year suspended sentence. They were also ordered to pay NIS 60,000 to each of their rape victims. Their accomplices, Ruhi Khujirat and Mohammed Gadir were each sentenced to nine years in prison and a suspended sentence of three years. They were ordered to pay NIS 35,000 to each victim.

The gang kidnapped the 13-year-old girl from a bus stop near Bir al-Maksur some days before they had abducted a 26-year-old woman in a similar way. Before that, in December 2005, Salam and Alah Khujirat's abducted a female soldier from Kiryat Ata while she was waiting for a taxi cab. They led her to a nearby wooded area, where they took turns raping her with the two other accomplices.

Two days after that incident, the gang abducted an underage girl with two of her male friends from a shopping mall near Kiryat Bialik. They released the two friends, and proceeded to rape the girl.

"The defendants acted with brutality, having methodically preplanned their actions," the judge ruled in his sentence. "They acted with cruelty, and they actively humiliated their victims. They picked out their victims at random, literally hunting them when they were waiting for the bus. They did this in unspeakable violence and cruelty, while threatening the girls' lives." Judge Joseph Elron noted also that the court would ratify the plea bargain in light of the fact that it "saved the victims the difficulty of having to testify about what they had gone through." Elron noted also that the victims agreed that the sentences were fair.

One of the defendants' fathers said he refused to take responsibility for his son's actions, saying also that some of the victims consented to have sex with his son.

One of the victims told Haaretz after the sentencing: "I'm still in it, but I'm over the worst of it. Now I have the strength to look them in the eye and move on."