Saturday, October 16, 2004

State Department: Palestinians won't prosecute American-killers in Gaza

The Palestinian Authority has shown an "unacceptable" performance in its failure to prosecute those behind the fatal bombing of a U.S. convoy entering Gaza last year on a cultural mission, the U.S. State Department said Friday.

"We haven't seen them demonstrate either the will, much less the capacity, to investigate the case seriously," department spokesman Richard Boucher said.

"We have seen statements from time to time by Palestinian officials that they know who did it. And if that's true, then they should take immediate action to arrest and prosecute whoever did it," Boucher said.

The three murdered Americans were John Branchizio, 37, of Texas, John Linde Jr., 30, of Missouri, and Mark Parsons, 31, of New Jersey. They were security personnel guarding a convoy of U.S. diplomatic vehicles that was attacked by Palestinian Arab terrorists at the Beit Hanoun junction in the Gaza Strip on October 15, 2003.

The three guards, contractors from the security firm DynCorp, were protecting the convoy on its way to interview Palestinian candidates for Fulbright scholarships.

The Palestinians arrested suspects in connection with the attack, but the United States has long doubted the credibility of those arrests.

"At the time that they made those arrests we expressed certain skepticism that they had arrested the people who were really responsible for these crimes, and felt that there was further serious investigation and action that needed to be taken," Boucher said.

Israel Insider reported last month that Musa Arafat, the newly appointed head of PA Military Intelligence and a cousin of PA chairman Yasir Arafat, told Reuters (Sept. 22, 2004) that "Palestinian security forces know who was behind the killing of three Americans in Gaza nearly a year ago but cannot act against the factions while fighting with Israel continues."

In July, State Department official David Satterfield said at a Senate hearing, regarding the PA's failure to arrest the killers: "There has been no satisfactory resolution of this case. We can only conclude that there has been a political decision taken by the chairman to block further progress in this investigation."

Until Satterfield's statement, the Bush administration had maintained that the PA was trying, but was unable, to capture the terrorists involved in the murders of 51 American citizens in Israel and the territories since the signing of the Oslo accords in 1993.