Israel probes Palestinian inmate's death after alleged abuse

'This week, 19 prison guards were interrogated,' a police spokeswoman says

By AFP

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Published: Thu 21 Dec 2023, 6:15 PM

Israeli police have questioned 19 prison guards as part of an investigation into the death of a Palestinian inmate, authorities said Thursday, following allegations of torture.

Thaer Abu Assab, 38, from Qalqilya in the occupied West Bank, died last month after being beaten by prison guards in southern Israel, according to the official Palestinian news agency Wafa.

"This week, 19 prison guards were interrogated," a police spokeswoman said.

"At the end of their interrogation, (they) were released under restrictive conditions. The investigation continues."

The spokeswoman said the interrogations were part of an investigation into a "suspected violent incident that happened about a month ago in a prison in the south of the country".

A spokeswoman for prison services did not respond to AFP's request for comment.

Assab, a member of the Fatah movement of Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas, who was serving a 25-year sentence was found dead in his cell, according to Israeli media.

The Israeli newspaper Israel Hayom reported that a post-mortem examination failed to determine whether the alleged abuse by his jailers was the cause of his death.

But the Public Committee against Torture in Israel (PCATI) said the death "raises serious suspicion that the IPS (Israel Prison Service) is being transformed from a professional incarceration body to a vindictive and punitive force".

"Six prisoners have already died in prison," PCATI said in a statement, adding that it had collected testimonies from Israeli prisons of beatings and sexual violence.

"All the instances of abuse and death must be investigated immediately," it added.

Far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, said prison officers must be presumed innocent until an investigation proves them guilty.

He told Israel Hayom that the guards were dealing with "human scum, murderers who represent a security risk".

Since war broke out on October 7 between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas, Israeli prison authorities have imposed new restrictions on Palestinian detainees.

Authorities have said that for inmates there would be no more leaving their cells -- and therefore no more visits -- no more buying food from the canteen, no more power in their electrical outlets, and more frequent surprise searches.

As of early December, Israeli prisons housed some 7,800 Palestinian detainees, according to the Palestinian Prisoners' Club, an advocacy group that keeps a tally of detainees from annexed east Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank.

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