An Israeli military court on Thursday sentenced Ahmed Saadat, the leader of the Palestinian Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), to 30 years in prison for heading an "illegal terrorist organization."
"There is no doubt that the accused controls the PFLP," the judges said in the ruling. "When we consider the appropriate sentence for someone who headed a murderous terrorist organization, we take into account not only his position, but his actions as well.
"The offenses the accused has been convicted of indicate that he initiated and participated in military activity with the aim of killing innocent people."
A military source said on condition of anonymity following the verdict that "as chief of an illegal terrorist organization, Ahmed Saadat is responsible and guilty of all actions carried out by this organization."
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas called the court's decision "unfair" and "not legally justified."
When Israeli forces seized Saadat in March 2006 in a raid
on a Jericho prison, he stood accused of planning the 2001 murder of Israeli tourism minister Rehavam Zeevi, which was carried out by four PFLP militants.
Prosecutors later decided not to pursue this case against Saadat, instead pressing the charges against four PFLP gunmen who were seized along with him in Jericho.
The PFLP slammed the verdict as political.
"When the Israelis arrested him, they accused him of having killed Zeevi, but this accusation did not appear in the sentencing which proves that his arrest was political and was not related to security issues," PFLP member Khalida Jarar told AFP.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas also condemned the decision, claiming it was "unfair" and "not legally justified."
Saadat and the four militants convicted of Zeevi's murder were seized during a raid in March 2006 when Israeli troops stormed a Jericho prison shortly after British guards left their posts.
The PFLP claimed responsiblity for the murder, claiming it came in response to the assassination of its leader, Abu Ali Mustafa.
Zeevi's death prompted the Palestinian Authority, under US and Israeli pressure, to arrest Saadat.
Late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat said the PA arrested Saadat on January 15, 2002 to force him to surrender Zeevi's killers. Saadat's arrest was one of the conditions set by Israel for a temporary blockade of Ramallah in 2002.
While in prison, Saadat was elected to the Palestinian parliament in January 2006.
Zeevi, 75 at the time of his death, was shot at a hotel in Jerusalem on October 17, 2001.