Al-Bargouthi is the highest-ranking
Palestinian being held by Israel

In a letter to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Attorney General Elyakim Rubinstein said the Palestinian leader should not be released until after his trial.

Rubinstein said his release should not be included in a ceasefire package with the Palestinians.

Israeli officials refused to comment on reports that al-Burguthi's release was being considered as part of a possible ceasefire deal with Palestinians.  

The 43-year-old leader of Palestinian President Yasser Arafat’s Fatah movement in the occupied West Bank was arrested last April in Ramallah. 

He is on trial in Israel on charges of murder, attempted murder, belonging to a “terrorist” organisation and possession of arms and explosives.

Ealier, the Associated Press quoted al-Bargouthi’s wife as saying she had received a phone call from Arafat overnight that her husband would be released. She said she was sceptical.

Al-Bargouthi is the highest-ranking Palestinian in Israel’s custody.

Al-Bargouthi was once tipped as a potential successor to Arafat. A champion of Palestinian resistance, he became a symbol of the intifada or uprising against Israeli occupation.

As a member of the Palestinian parliament, al-Bargouthi has refused to recognise the validity of the trial.

Following his last court appearance on 2 June, Israel extended for another three months a ban on al-Bargouthi receiving visitors, claiming he was organising “terror activity from his prison cell”.