Palestinian leader Barghouti ‘punished for remarks’ in Israel court

Israel has placed jailed Palestinian leader Marwan Barghouti in solitary confinement over remarks he made to the press during a rare court appearance, officials said on Thursday.

Qadura Fares, head of the Palestinian Prisoners Club, told AFP the move was discovered on Thursday when a lawyer went to visit Barghouti.

The leader told his lawyer that he had been moved to solitary as a punishment for remarks he made a day earlier during a brief appearance at a Jerusalem court.

There was no immediate confirmation from the Israel Prisons Service.

Although he refused to testify, he made several statements in English, Hebrew and Arabic, telling reporters: "Peace cannot happen without ending the occupation," and urging the Palestinians "to continue their popular struggle."

The Middle East conflict will end only when Israel withdraws to the pre-1967 lines and a Palestinian state is established, he said.

"The conflict will be finished the moment the Israeli occupation ends, and there is a full withdrawal to the 1967 borders and a Palestinian state is established," he said in Hebrew at Jerusalem Magistrates Court.

Barghouti, who is serving five life sentences for his involvement in several deadly anti-Israeli attacks, was called to testify as part of a US civil lawsuit against the Palestinian leadership in connection with bloodshed during the Second Intifada (2000-2005).

On entering the courtroom, Barghouti immediately raised his hands to flash his trademark victory V-sign.

"I call on the great Palestinian people to embrace unity and cohesion and to establish a national unity government and also to embrace popular, peaceful resistance to end the occupation," he said in Arabic.

Rival Palestinian factions Hamas and Fatah last year pledged to work quickly towards elections and to form a unity government under the terms of a reconciliation deal which has yet to be implemented.

"Peace cannot happen without ending the occupation," he said, adding a "salute" to those behind the popular revolutions in Tunisia and Libya, as well as in Egypt, which on Thursday marked the first anniversary since its uprising began.

"I don't recognize this court," Barghouti shouted to AFP as he was led out of the courthouse. "I call on the Palestinian people to continue their popular struggle."

Before Barghouti entered the room, his lawyer Elias Sabbagh had told the court he would not be testifying.

"We are talking about a US lawsuit against the Palestinian Authority and not against Mr. Barghouti. Mr. Barghouti is not part of this lawsuit, that is why he is not going to say anything about this case or any other case," he said.

"The case is against the PLO and the Palestinian Authority," Sabbagh told AFP, referring to the Palestine Liberation Organization.

"They brought Barghouti as a witness because he was in the PA and he refused to say anything in the court about this issue."

"The Israeli police warned Barghouti not to speak to the media but they allowed the press into the court room," a Palestinian legal source told AFP, in comments confirmed by Fares.

Sabbagh described Barghouti’s move to solitary confinement as "unfair" and said it would not silence the veteran activist, who enjoys widespread support among the Palestinian public.

"Barghouti is a popular Palestinian leader and this is the first time in five years he has spoken (directly) to the press. This punishment will not change the strength of his opinions," he told AFP.

Barghouti, a senior leader within the Fatah movement of Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas, is known for being a lifelong activist who supported the Oslo peace process in the 1990s.

But Israel accused him of masterminding the Second Intifada, which erupted in 2000.

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