Tel Aviv, Israel In the theatrical opening to the groundbreaking trial of a Palestinian leader, Marwan Barghouti raised his manacled hands Wednesday and denied Israeli charges that he orchestrated more than three dozen attacks against Israelis.
"I will keep fighting on till I get my freedom," shouted Barghouti, the first senior Palestinian brought before an Israeli civilian court.
Barghouti, 43, is the second-most popular Palestinian leader, trailing only Yasser Arafat in recent polls among Palestinians.
He launched his spirited self-defense immediately upon entering the Tel Aviv District Court, in what is expected to be a lengthy trial that will also focus on the larger political dramas of the Mideast conflict.
Israel believes it has strong evidence showing that Barghouti and other top Palestinian figures, including Arafat, are directly responsible for attacks against Israeli civilians. Barghouti requested and received money from Arafat, then used the funds to purchase weapons for militants who carried out attacks, the prosecution charged in the indictment.
Barghouti was "a central figure in the decision making" of militant groups and worked closely with Arafat, the indictment said. He was indicted on charges of murder, attempted murder and involvement in terrorist organizations.
Barghouti refused to recognize the court and said Israel's 35-year military occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip was the main source of tensions.
"The policy of assassinations, curfews, house demolitions, the policy of occupation will not lead to security," Barghouti said before the proceedings began.
Barghouti was twice brought into the court, only to be dragged away by police after he began speaking to journalists who climbed on the benches in the visitor's gallery. The bearded Barghouti, wearing a dark brown prison uniform, spoke alternately in Hebrew, Arabic and English, gesturing feverishly with his cuffed hands.
"The uprising will be victorious," Barghouti said. He was ushered into the court for a third time just before the proceedings started.
Barghouti is the West Bank leader of Arafat's Fatah movement, and is a charismatic speaker who was a fixture at street protests during the early days of the Palestinian uprising that began in September 2000.
He was arrested April 15 by Israeli troops in the West Bank and is the first senior Palestinian figure to face trial in the nearly two years of violence.
Despite the tensions at the trial, Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres met on Wednesday with five Palestinian Cabinet ministers, his spokesman said. A Peres aide said Israel agreed to transfer $14 million in tax money to the Palestinian Authority, the second of three payments.
Palestinian Cabinet Minister Saeb Erekat said the Palestinians refused to discuss an Israeli proposal that would have used Gaza as a test case to pull Israeli forces back and turn security over to the Palestinians, because it would appear to separate Gaza from the West Bank.
Also, Israeli forces killed a senior Hamas militant in the West Bank village of Tubas, the military and residents said. The military said Nasser Jerar, 44, was planning attacks, including blowing up a high-rise building in Israel.