Palestinians enraged by activist’s death march on Abbas compound


RAMALLAH/HEBRON, West Bank (Reuters): Hundreds of angry Palestinians marched towards Mahmoud Abbas’s presidential compound in the occupied West Bank on Thursday (June 24) to demand he resign over the death of a well-known activist following his arrest by Palestinian Authority (PA) security forces.

Demonstrators held posters of Nizar Banat as they came under tear gas fire by dozens of PA forces in riot gear trying to prevent the group from reaching President Abbas’s headquarters, in the centre of the West Bank city of Ramallah.

According to Banat’s relatives, security forces severely beat him during his arrest overnight in the southern West Bank city of Hebron. The PA-appointed governor of the city, Jibrin Al-Bakri, said Banat had died when his health deteriorated following his arrest, without elaborating on the cause.

Banat, 43, was a social activist who had accused Abbas’s PA of corruption, including over a short-lived Covid-19 vaccine exchange with Israel this month and Abbas’s postponement of a long-delayed election in May. Banat had registered as a parliamentary candidate for that contest.

A spokesman for the Palestinian Authority did not respond to a request for comment on the arrest and accusations that its forces had beat Banat.

Following UN demands for an inquiry into Banat’s death, Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh, an Abbas appointee, ordered the formation of an investigation committee that he said would include the PA’s Independent Commission for Human Rights (ICHR).

But in an apparent sign of public distrust in the PA’s inquiry, ICHR director-general Ammar Dwaik later said ICHR would not be involved in the PA investigation committee.

“(ICHR) is involved in the autopsy process, and will issue its own report with the (independent rights group) Al-Haq,” Dwaik wrote on Facebook. Al-Haq said on Twitter that it and ICHR had appointed, with the blessing of Banat’s family, a doctor to carry out an official PA autopsy.

The announcement of the PA inquiry did little to assuage Palestinian anger over what many see as Abbas’s increasingly autocratic rule.

Abbas regularly arrests his critics, human rights groups say, and has ruled the PA by decree for well over a decade. The Palestinian Authority rejects accusations that it arrests people for their political views.

“The people want the downfall of the regime,” protesters chanted at Ramallah’s main Al-Manara Square. As they were repelled by tear gas fire on the way to Abbas’s palace, they screamed “traitors, traitors” towards his forces.

Hebron Governor Bakri said in a statement that Banat’s arrest was on the orders of the PA attorney general.

Banat’s family told Reuters that PA security forces broke into their house in the middle of the night, pulled Banat from his bed and started to beat him.

“They hit him on his head with iron bars, which they had used to open the windows,” Banat’s cousin, Hussein, 21, said. “They beat him continuously for eight minutes. If you came to arrest him, take him. Why the brutality?”

Another family member who witnessed the arrest said Banat was alive when he was taken away and had screamed as he was beaten.

The United Nations Middle East peace envoy, Tor Wennesland, said on Twitter he was alarmed and saddened by the death, and called for a transparent investigation.

“The perpetrators must be brought to justice,” Wennesland said, offering condolences to Banat’s family.

The European Union delegation to the Palestinians said on Twitter it was shocked and saddened, adding a “full, independent and transparent investigation should be conducted immediately.”

The PA exercises limited self-rule in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, home to 3.1 million Palestinians.

On Monday, Banat, who had 100,000 Facebook followers, condemned PA officials as mercenaries over the Covid-19 vaccine exchange deal, which the PA swiftly cancelled.

Banat had planned to run for the Palestinian parliament on May 22. Abbas called off that election, citing Israeli controls over Palestinians in East Jerusalem. Opponents accuse Abbas of cancelling the election to avoid losing to Islamist rivals. -Reuters

Source link