A Palestinian terrorist accused of ordering the killing of government minister Rehavam Zeevi is set to be freed from jail in Jericho when Israel pulls back from the city this week, Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas said Tuesday.
"Ahmed Saadat and Fuad Shubaki will be released from prison in Jericho when Jericho is handed over to the Palestinians," Abbas told Reuters by telephone.
Saadat is the Secretary-General of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) and Shubaki is Yasser Arafat's former financial aide and has been accused of arms smuggling.
Abbas said the two men were placed on Israel's wanted list with an agreement that once Israel leaves the Palestinian cities, the fugitives would have immunity.
"They will be freed, and the Israelis are aware of this," he said.
'Abbas has no authority'
A spokesman for the Prime Minister said in response Zeevi's killers cannot be released without agreement by the U.S., Israel and Palestinian officials.
"The Palestinians were told the two would remain in prison according to the agreement," he said. "There is no possibility that they'll be released, and if so, they'll be arrested by Israeli forces and incarcerated in an Israeli jail."
He also said earlier senior Palestinian officials told the Prime Minister’s Office they have no intention to break their agreement with Israel by releasing the men.
Shubaki, Saadat, and three others accused of involvement in the 2001 killing of Rehavam Zeevi are guarded in a Jericho prison by British soldiers under a deal between Israel and the Palestinians in 2002.
Therefore, Abbas has no authority to make such a decision, defense establishment officials said.
They said in the past the Palestinians have spoken about the possibility of their release, however nothing was eventuated.
The subject of the mens' release arose during a meeting between Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz and Palestinian Interior Minister Nasser Yusuf Monday, however Mofaz clearly explained Israel's unequivocal stance on the matter.
The two agreed that the West Bank town of Jericho would be handed over to Palestinian security control on Wednesday, followed by Tul Karm next week.
'An orphan of the state'
Zeevi's son, Yiftah Zeevi said in response to Abbas's announcement that he understands there is an unequivocal agreement between the prime minister, the IDF and the Shin Bet not to release the men.
"I'm not speaking as an orphan who lost a father, but rather as an orphan of the country that had its minister murdered," he said. "Abu Mazen (Abbas) cannot do this just to win points in the street."
The subject of the men's release arose during a meeting between Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Abbas at the Sharm summit. Abbas asked Sharon to consider the release, however, Sharon answered, "absolutely not."