Key Tanzim Man Rejects Court's Right to Try Him

A senior commander of the Tanzim militias, who is on trial with their leader Marwan Barghouti, yesterday echoed his superior's main line of defense - that Israel has no authority to put him on trial.

Nasser Awis, 32, of Balata refugee camp, is accused of leading the Tanzim forces in the northern West Bank. In this capacity, the indictment said, he planned several terror attacks that claimed the lives of dozens of Israelis in the territories and in Israel and wounded hundreds of others.

Among others, he is accused of masterminding the shooting at the Seafood Market in Tel Aviv, which killed three people and wounded several others. He has therefore been charged with murder, attempted murder, aggravated injury and membership of a terrorist organization.

The indictment was filed in Tel Aviv District Court two months ago and yesterday Awis was asked to enter a plea. He responded that the court is not authorized to try him. At one point, he even covered his ears to demonstrate that he was not interested in listening to the proceedings.

Prosecutor Tamir Anise also told the court that although two months has passed since the indictment was filed, Awis's attorney has not yet begun to look at the evidence against him. However, Anise added, this is the first time Awis has argued that the court is not authorized to try him.

Awis also told the court - again echoing Barghouti - that he did not want a lawyer and intended to represent himself. Nevertheless, the court ordered a defense attorney appointed by the Public Defender's Office to be present at all times. Israeli law requires defendants charged with serious crimes to have access to counsel. The court will start hearing testimony in the case in March.