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Behind the bars in Israel women′s prison

MARK COLVIN: The Israeli army says it's foiled another Palestinian suicide bombing, this time arresting a teenager wearing a belt packed with five kilos of explosives, nails and screws near the Gaza Strip.

Last month troops captured a Palestinian woman trying to sneak out of Gaza wearing a bomb belt.

With Israel maintaining an iron grip on the Palestinian territories, the militant groups are increasingly turning to women to try to breach this net and launch attacks.

While a number of women have managed to blow themselves up inside Israel, many have been caught.

In a rare move, Israel has given PM access to its highest security women's prison to meet one of the most notorious attackers.

Middle East Correspondent Mark Willacy reports from Israel's Ha-Sharon jail.

(sound of prison dogs barking)

MARK WILLACY: A forbidding place of ferocious attack dogs, razor wire and armed guards, Ha-Sharon jail is where Israel keeps its most dangerous Palestinian women prisoners.

(sound of jail door opening)

MARK WILLACY: I am taken to the wing housing Hamas and Islamic Jihad prisoners.

In the heat of the day the women are locked down. They peer at me through slots in the bottom of their doors or through reinforced mesh windows, each one an incomplete or obscure face.

Soon I'm in Achlam Tmimi's cell.

MARK WILLACY: The 20-year-old Palestinian has big brown eyes and a large smile. Her features are accentuated by the head covering worn by devout Muslims.

This attractive young woman is serving 16 consecutive life sentences for helping to get a Palestinian suicide bomber inside Jerusalem's Sbaro pizza parlour.

(sound of screaming and yelling at Sbarro)

MARK WILLACY: The ABC was there four years ago as ambulance crews dragged 16 bodies, some of them belonging to children, out of the shredded shell of the pizza parlour.

Achlam Tmimi was caught soon after the attack, and she's spent every day since in Ha-Sharon jail.

Can you tell me about the attack you helped carry out? What did you think when that attack was carried out, did you think when that attack was carried out, did you think that you'd been successful?

ACHLAM TMIMI (translated): The attack I was involved in, and every attack like it, helps the survival of the Palestinians.

I do not regret what I did. It was my way of struggling against the occupation. Compare what I did with what the Israeli army does. It kills thousands of innocent people.

If someone comes to your house and throws you and your family out you will resist. We Palestinians want our freedom and our land back.

(sound of women yelling)

MARK WILLACY: In this wing of the jail, there are 59 Hamas and Islamic Jihad prisoners.

The walls here are covered in childish murals painted by the women. One shows a large teddy bear holding a blood-red heart, another a sweeping vista of snow-capped mountains. Each painting is a symbol of hopes and dreams now gone.

In the exercise yard Amal Joma strokes a baby sparrow she nursed back to health.

It's hard to believe this woman was caught with a suicide bomb belt.

(sound of Amal Joma talking)

"I was planning to use the belt but Israeli soldiers caught me at three o'clock in the morning," she says.

"I am here because I fought for my land, my country, and my people," she tells me.

(sound of prisoners talking)

The undoubted leader of the women in this block is Achlam Tmimi.

The other prisoners are quiet when she speaks and they are compliant when she issues orders.

The governor of the prison, Yoshua Ben-Gal, believes Achlam Tmimi controls her fellow inmates with an iron fist.

We've just been speaking to Achlam Tmimi. Do you regard her as particularly dangerous given her history and what she did?

(sound of Yoshua Ben-Gal speaking)

"Yes, she's a dangerous woman. We are aware of her silent religious incitement inside the jail," he says.

"Her effect on the other women is total. Also, she has expressed no regret about what she did," he tells me.

(sound of women talking inside jail)

Achlam Tmimi's story is not as straightforward as it might seem.

In her teens she became pregnant out of wedlock. Feeling dishonoured her devout Muslim family took the baby off her and sent her to Ramallah.

Achlam's family made it clear to her that the only way she would be cleared of her shame would be to launch a mission against Israel.

Having helped kill 16 civilians, she now hopes one day to kill more.

ACHLAM TMIMI (translated): I will keep giving for my country and my people until the occupation stops. When I leave this prison I will continue the struggle.

The Islamic religion forbids the killing of children or innocent people, but look what Israel is doing, killing Palestinian women, children and babies.

So how we fight depends on the way Israel fights. When we go to Israel to fight we go where there is a large crowd but where there are mostly soldiers.

(sound of jail door closing)

MARK WILLACY: But Achlam Tmimi may never get her wish to continue her struggle, because her future looks confined to the baking heat and razor wire of Israel's highest security women's prison.

This is Mark Willacy at Ha-Sharon jail for PM.

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