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Jenin militant charged over theater director murder

April 6, 2011 10:47 P.M. (Updated: April 8, 2011 2:38 P.M.)
JENIN (AFP) -- Police in Jenin have charged a former Al-Aqsa Brigades militant with the murder of an Israeli-Palestinian theatre director, security sources said Wednesday.

Palestinian police arrested Mujahed Qaniri on Monday, just hours after a masked gunman shot dead Juliano Mer-Khamis, director of The Freedom Theatre in the refugee camp in this northern West Bank city.

Mer-Khamis, a well-known actor and director who was born of Jewish and Palestinian parents, was gunned down as he was driving home, with his infant son sat on his knee and the baby-sitter also in the car.

Police sources said Qaniri, a camp resident who is in his 30s, had been charged with the murder after being identified in three separate line-ups by the baby-sitter, who was sitting in the car when he opened fire.

Friends and associates of Mer-Khamis said the woman, known only as Raida, had seen the killer's face before he opened fire, after which he donned a mask and fled.

The source said Qaniri once belonged to the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, an armed offshoot of Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah movement, and had spent at least five years in an Israeli jail.

Some sources said he had since joined Hamas, while others described him as "independent" who had spent five years in a Palestinian jail for supplying weapons to militants from the Islamist group.

In Gaza, Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri disavowed any connection with Qaniri.

"Mujahed Qaniri belongs to Fatah and has no relationship with Hamas," he said in a statement, adding that the murder was a purely criminal affair.

Mer-Khamis was buried on Wednesday at a kibbutz between the northern Israeli port city of Haifa and the Arab Israeli city of Nazareth where he grew up.

The funeral procession passed by the Jalameh crossing between Israel and the northern West Bank so that residents of the camp could pay their last respects.
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