Led past reporters into court, manacled hand and foot, Saadat raised his hands in a gesture of defiance and shouted in Arabic, "I am fighting occupation!" before he was silenced by guards and led into the closed courtroom.

Saadat is a leader of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.

Saadat and four of his alleged accomplices in the 2001 assassination of Rehavam Zeevi, an Israeli cabinet minister, were seized in an army swoop on Jericho prison. At his brief court appearance Saadat refused to recognise the military tribunal's authority to try him and the judge, in turn, refused to hear his bail application.

The Israeli army stormed the prison on 14 March, two weeks before Israel's general election. The raid boosted Ehud Olmert, the acting Israeli prime minister's image as a tough-minded leader.

Shaul Mofaz, the Israeli defence minister and a member of Olmert's centrist Kadima party, dismissed allegations that the operation, which involved 1000 troops, was timed to win over hardline voters.

"I am fighting occupation!"

Ahmed Saadat,
Palestinian resistance fighter

But the raid angered Palestinians, and embarrassed Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, who labeled it an "unforgivable crime" and "an insult to the Palestinian people".

The raid triggered unprecedented Palestinian reprisals against foreigners, because British wardens - who along with American monitors had supervised the Jericho prisoners under an unusual 2002 arrangement - left their posts just before Israeli troops arrived.

Armed men vandalised Western offices and kidnapped 11 foreigners, including an American university professor. All were released within a day.