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Barghouti's early release mooted

JERUSALEM, Jan. 15 (UPI) -- Israeli Deputy Defense Minister Ephraim Sneh Monday hinted that Palestinian Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti's jail term ought to be shortened.

Barghouti is serving five life sentences on charges of involvement in assassinations during the intifada, or the Palestinian uprising.

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However, from his prison cell he has been involved in Fatah affairs and in drafting a Palestinian document that implied recognition of Israel, acceptance of the pre-1967 lines and limitations on the use violence. Security prisoners belonging to other parties, including Hamas, have signed it.

Now Barghouti is reportedly involved in helping create a Palestinian national unity government. He is considered the most popular Fatah leader around, which is especially significant at a time when Fatah seems to be short of attractive leaders.

Sneh told diplomats and foreign correspondents in Jerusalem that Barghouti is "the most popular secular Palestinian leader." He noted while Barghouti is serving time for his involvement in "terror attacks...One day Israel will have to consider how long he'll serve in our jail."

Sneh's influence goes beyond that of a deputy minister. He is a retired brigadier general, headed the Civil Administration in the West Bank, and as a Knesset (Parliament) member has been involved in security issues. But his boss, Defense Minister Amir Peretz, is a trade unionist widely considered to be the wrong man in the wrong place.

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