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Lieberman, Israeli leaders push for 'terrorist' death penalty

Israel last carried out death penalty when Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann was convicted in 1961 and hanged year later
Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman (AFP)

Israeli political leaders on Sunday agreed to submit a draft bill to parliament mandating capital punishment for "terrorists," Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman's Yisrael Beitenu party said in a statement.

Although the statement's wording was not explicit, the bill is aimed at Palestinian militants, in line with Lieberman's past pledges.

"Today the death penalty bill for terrorists has finally been approved by the coalition leaders' forum," the Hebrew-language announcement said, referring to the heads of the six political parties that comprise the governing coalition.

"The legislation should be very simple and very clear - a terrorist who comes to kill innocent civilians will be sentenced to death," it said.

The statement cited Lieberman as saying that if passed into law the bill would be a powerful deterrent and a counterweight to Palestinian assailants' hopes that after a spell in jail they could be freed in a political deal or prisoner exchange.

In the most recent such deal, Israel in 2011 released more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for soldier Gilad Shalit, who had been held captive in the Gaza Strip for five years.

"We must not allow terrorists to know that after a murder they have committed, they will sit in prison, enjoy the conditions and may be released in the future," Lieberman wrote.

Qadura Fares, the director of the Palestinian Society Prisoner's Club, said in a statement on Monday that the "death penalty" bill is targeting Palestinian political prisoners.

"This bill is drafted to be imposed on Palestinian prisoners only, in the Israeli military and civil courts, and it will not be extended to Israeli prisoners," the statement said.

He pledged that lawyers will "boycott" the Israeli military courts in opposition to the law and added that the bill will not allow any future prisoners exchange with Israel or the release of Palestinian prisoners.

Coalition survival

The parliamentarian Nachman Shai of the Zionist Union, a member of the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee, said he opposes the death penalty for terrorists law, I24 News reported on its website.

"Throughout history there have been many terrorists deserving of the death penalty, and yet the state has refrained from imposing this. The death penalty does not deter, but rather creates heroes of terror. Therefore, in the civilised world to which we belong, we impose life sentences but refrain from the death penalty," Shai said.

Shai added that "the death penalty will bring with it international pressure that Israel will not be able to withstand at this time. All this for the survival of the coalition?"

The statement did not set a date for the bill to be put before parliament.

It would need to pass four readings before becoming law, and could then risk being struck down by the Supreme Court.

Israeli military law in the occupied West Bank allows for the death penalty, but rarely delivers a death sentence and never carries it out, Haaretz newspaper said.

The law within the borders of the Jewish state carries a death penalty for crimes against humanity and treason, but was last used when Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann was convicted in 1961 and hanged a year later.

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