Israel revolted by Jordan's justice minister plea for murderer

By Jennifer Lipman, February 16, 2011

Israel’s Foreign Ministry has heavily condemned a Jordanian minister’s demands for the early release of a man convicted of murdering seven Israeli schoolgirls in 1997.

Ahmed Daqamseh, a former Jordanian soldier, shot the girls with an automatic rifle and injured seven others at Naharayim, a spot on the Israeli-Jordanian border.

The girls were on a school trip when they were murdered.

Daqamseh was sentenced to a life (25 years) behind bars, but this week the new Jordanian justice minister Hussein Mjali joined anti-Israel demonstrators to demand his release.

Mr Mjali was appointed to the justice ministry last week after King Abdullah dismissed his government and asked the prime minister to form a new cabinet.. Considered close to the Jordanian opposition, he served as Daqamseh’s defence lawyer and during the demonstration was quoted describing his former client as a “hero” during the rally.

The Foreign Ministry summoned the Dalsallah al-Fayez, the Jordanian chargé d’affaires, to Jerusalem and told him of “Israel's revulsion and shock at [Mr Mjali’s] statements…especially since they were made by the person entrusted with law and justice.”

The head of the Middle East division of the Foreign Ministry, Yaakov Hadas, said that Israel expected Jordan’s government “to immediately and unequivocally denounce the minister’s statement” and “to express its outright rejection of all calls for the release of the heinous murderer”.

He also demanded that Jordan would ensure Daqamseh would “continue to bear the punishment imposed on him”.

A Jordanian government spokesman said Mr Mjali was not representing the government when he made his comments and that Daqamseh would not be released. But the spokesman said the minister had “the right to express himself."

Soon after the attack, which came three years after Israel and Jordan signed a peace treaty, Jordan's then King Hussein visited Israel to see the girls’ families and express his regret.

The move was seen as a significant statement by the King; likewise Mr Mjali’s actions this week could strain relations between the two countries.

Last updated: 5:33pm, February 16 2011