Mohammed Dahlan AP
Palestinian Fatah leader Mohammed Dahlan gestures as he speaks during an interview with The Associated Press in his office in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Jan. 3, 2011. Photo by AP
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In an unusual turn of events, two senior Palestinian Authority officials testified in an Israeli military court in the territories recently, on behalf of another Palestinian security officer accused of terror offenses. Tawfiq Tirawi, the former head of the Palestinian General Intelligence Service, and Mohammed Dahlan, also a senior intelligence official, appeared as witnesses for the defense in the case of the Palestinian who was arrested by Israel. Dahlan and Tirawi claimed that the arrest was a violation of an Israeli commitment given by former Shin Bet security service head Yuval Diskin not to capture the wanted man.

The judges said they believed the two and accepted their explanation, but in the end the court ruled last week not to dismiss the indictment because of the seriousness of the offenses attributed to the defendant, and because the agreement was never signed.

Jamal Hajaj, who served as an officer in the General Intelligence Service in the West Bank, was accused of a string of terror offenses including involvement in dispatching a suicide bomber who murdered three Israelis. Hajaj was arrested in May 2007, a few months after his name was included in an agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority over wanted men. It seems Hajaj was arrested by chance, when he was rounded up in an operation to arrest other wanted men.

His trial is being conducted in the Shomron Military Court at the Salem Checkpoint on the Green Line. His lawyer suggested Israel had violated an existing "administrative commitment" not to arrest Hajaj. His lawyer petitioned the court to dismiss the charges and free him.

Dahlan served as the head of Preventive Security in Gaza and was later the Palestinian minister in charge of security negotiations with Israel. Both Dahlan and Tirawi were members of the Fatah central committee, though Dahlan was ousted recently after a serious conflict with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Dahlan testified about the agreement between Israel and the PA, on non-prosecution of the wanted men, which included Hajaj. Dahlan said the agreement was a form of pardon by Israel. He explained that without such a pardon and freedom from arrest, the agreement would not have been possible and Hajaj was one of the central figures included in the deal - but Dahlan admitted the agreement was never written down and signed. Another man included in the agreement, Jihad Misimi, was arrested and later released, he said.

Tirawi told of a meeting he held with Diskin and with R., the Shin Bet's director for the West Bank. He said Diskin had agreed Hajaj would not be arrested if he stayed near home and did not approach a checkpoint. Tirawi testified that he called R. after Hajaj's arrest and was told it was a mistake, but when Tirawi asked R. if he would release Hajaj, R. said he was unable to do so.

The military prosecution raised a number of claims, including that Hajaj had violated the agreement. In addition, the prosecution said Diskin was not authorized to offer such pardons, and that only the Justice Ministry could do so.

In the end, the court ruled that due to the lack of a written agreement the criminal prosecution must continue, especially in light of the seriousness of the charges, which include murder and terror attacks.