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Palestinian activist critical of PA leadership dies in custody; independent probe demanded

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Protesters take part in a demonstration calling for Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas to quit in Ramallah in the occupied West Bank on June 24, 2021. (Photo by AFP)

A leading Palestinian human rights activist, who was an outspoken critic of the Palestinian Authority (PA)’s leadership, has died after being arrested by security forces in the occupied West Bank.

Nizar Banat, a resident of the flashpoint West Bank city of al-Khalil, was arrested in a dawn raid by PA’s security forces on his home on Thursday.

The 43-year-old activist, as his family said, was in bed when some two dozen PA officers broke into his home in the town of Dura, located some 11 kilometers southwest of al-Khalil, and started to severely beat him.

His family described what happened with Nezar as a “premeditated assassination” since he had been beaten hard with iron and wooden batons and as a result, he had lost consciousness.

"When he woke up, they arrested him naked and transferred him into an unknown place by 25 members of the security forces," the family said, calling for the full disclosure of facts surrounding Banat's death and those responsible.

The wife (L) of the Palestinian activist Nizar Banat, who died during his arrest by Palestinian security forces, grieves in her house in the town of Dura near al-Khalil in the West Bank, on June 24, 2021. (Photo by AFP)

Al-Khalil Governor Jamil al-Bakri, declining to comment on allegations by Banat's family, said in a statement that the public prosecution had issued a summons for Banat and that "during the arrest his health deteriorated.”

"Following issuing a summons from the Public Prosecution to arrest the citizen Nizar Khalil Muhammad Banat, a force from the security services arrested him at dawn today, and during the arrest his health deteriorated. He was immediately transferred to the Hebron Government Hospital," the statement said.

"After he was examined by doctors, he was pronounced dead,” it added. “The Public Prosecution office started procedures in accordance with the law immediately after it was informed of the incident."

Banat was well known for his strong criticism of the PA leadership and had been arrested several times in the past by Palestinian security forces.

The rights activist, who intended to run in parliamentary elections before they were canceled earlier this year, had for months been posting videos on Facebook, in which he lambasted Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and other senior PA officials.

Banat's death was met with anger on the streets of the West Bank, as well as criticism from human rights organizations and Palestinian factions, which have called for an independent investigation as specific circumstances of his death remain unclear.

Palestine's Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh was said to have ordered the immediate formation of an impartial investigation committee to look into the death of Banat after his arrest by the security forces in his house.

Major General Talal Dweikat, the  General Political Commissioner and spokesman for the security services, was cited by the Palestinian Wafa news agency as saying that there is no objection to the participation of human rights institutions in the investigation committee, stressing that the government is ready to take any measures that result from the findings of the committee.

The committee will be headed by Minister of Justice Mohammad Shalaldeh, with the participation of a human rights official, a physician appointed by the Banat family, and a security official. 

Hamas, Palestinian factions blast Banat's death in custody  

The Palestinian Hamas resistance movement condemned the death in custody of Banat, and said in a statement that this orchestrated crime reflects the intentions of the Palestinian Authority against the Palestinians and politicians.

Hamas held Abbas and his government accountable for the activist’s death.

Sami Abu Zuhri, a member of the Hamas movement's political bureau, said, "We consider that [PA] Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh bears the primary responsibility for the murder of activist and parliamentary candidate Nizar Banat, and we call for the killers to be prosecuted."      

The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) said in a statement that the left-wing faction held the PA responsible for Banat's death.

"The arrest and then the assassination of Nizar again raises questions on the nature of the role and function of the PA and its security services, and its violation of the democratic rights of citizens through the policy of silence, prosecution, arrest and murder," the PFLP said.

Ayed Yaghi, an official of the Palestinian National Initiative (PNI) movement in the besieged Gaza Strip, said in a statement that the party condemned Banat's “arrest and subsequent death.”

Yaghi called for the formation of an independent investigation committee to conduct a comprehensive investigation into what happened and to ensure that those responsible for Banat's death were punished.

The veteran Palestinian politician Hanan Ashrawi said in a tweet that, "The violent arrest & death in detention of Nizar Banat by the Palestinian security forces is a serious crime & a dangerous development."

"The deterioration of conditions has gone unchecked for some time which led to this escalation. Accountability is imperative."

The Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor also expressed its deep shock at the circumstances of Banat's death.

The organization demanded an urgent and independent investigation into the case, saying all the circumstances pointed to a deliberate "process of liquidation" to suppress a voice strongly opposed to the policies of the PA.

The United Nations Middle East peace envoy Tor Wennesland also said he was "alarmed and saddened" by Banat's death.

"My deepest condolences to his family & loved ones," he added. "I call for a swift, independent & transparent investigation. Perpetrators must be brought to justice."

Moreover, hundreds of angry Palestinians marched towards Abbas' presidential compound in the West Bank on Thursday to demand his resignation over the death of the well-known activist.

As they were repelled by tear gas fire on the way to Abbas's palace, they screamed "traitors, traitors" towards the Palestinian Authority forces.          

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