Palestinians call for probe of Israeli prisons

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RAMALLAH, West Bank (AP) — Palestinians on Sunday called for an international investigation of Israel's treatment of detained Palestinians, after a 30-year-old Palestinian died in custody and a hunger strike by four other inmates sparked a week of West Bank protests.

The death of Arafat Jaradat on Saturday raised new questions about Israel's Shin Bet security service, which has been accused by rights groups of mistreating Palestinians during interrogation.

Palestinian officials and the detainee's family alleged Jaradat was mistreated by the Shin Bet, saying he was healthy at the time of his arrest last week.

Israeli officials said Jaradat died of an apparent heart attack and denied he was beaten or subjected to any treatment that could have led to his death.

Several thousand Palestinian prisoners held by Israel observed a one-day fast Sunday to protest Jaradat's death, which was bound to spur more Palestinian demonstrations in support of prisoners.

In the West Bank's largest city, Hebron, dozens of Palestinians on Sunday threw stones at Israeli soldiers who fired tear gas and rubber-coated steel pellets. Stone-throwing protests also erupted near Jaradat's village of Saeer in the West Bank.

In all, Israel holds close to 4,600 Palestinians on a range of charges, from throwing stones at Israelis to involvement in deadly shooting and bombing attacks. Of the detainees, 159 are being held without charges or trial in so-called administrative detention.

The fate of prisoners is an emotional issue for Palestinians and Israelis.

Virtually every Palestinian family has seen a member imprisoned since Israel captured the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem in 1967, and the prisoners are generally seen as heroes resisting Israeli occupation. Many Israelis tend to view Palestinians involved in politically motivated violence as terrorists.

The Shin Bet said Jaradat was arrested last Monday, after residents in his village of Saeer said he was involved in a rock-throwing attack that injured an Israeli.

Jaradat admitted to the charge, as well as to another West Bank rock-throwing incident last year, the Shin Bet said.

The agency said that during interrogation, he was examined several times by a doctor who detected no health problems. On Saturday, he was in his cell and felt unwell after lunch, the agency said. "Rescue services and a doctor were alerted and treated him, they didn't succeed in saving his life," the statement said.

A Shin Bet spokesman, speaking on condition of anonymity in line with protocol, said Jaradat was not beaten during his interrogation, nor was he subjected to any treatment that could have affected his health.

Jaradat was not on a hunger strike and died of an apparent heart attack, said Sivan Weizman of the Israel Prisons Service.

Israel's main forensics institute was to perform an autopsy, with a Palestinian physician in attendance.

Jaradat, a father of a 4-year-old daughter and 2-year-old son, worked as a gas station attendant and his wife, Dalal, is pregnant, relatives said.

His family and Palestinian officials said he was healthy at the time of his arrest, and alleged he was mistreated during interrogation.

Issa Karake, a Palestinian official who handles prisoner issues, said he holds Israel responsible for Jaradat's death, alleging ill-treatment and medical negligence. Karake called for an independent international investigation of Israel's treatment of Palestinian detainees.

The Israeli human rights group B'Tselem also demanded an investigation, including how Jaradat was questioned.

The agency routinely holds detainees in isolation for extended periods during interrogation, keeping them in cells that are lit around the clock and denying them access to lawyers, said Sarit Michaeli, a spokeswoman for the group.

She said that physical mistreatment of detainees has dropped sharply in recent years, but has not disappeared, according to affidavits by released prisoners. She also said detainees have filed some 700 complaints about mistreatment by Shin Bet agents over the past decade, but that none has led to a criminal investigation.

Jaradat's death comes at a time of daily Palestinian demonstrations in support of prisoners, especially four hunger strikers.

The health of one of the hunger strikers has deteriorated.

In recent days, protests often turned into violent clashes with soldiers.

Defense officials said Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz convened top military officials Saturday night to discuss escalating tensions in the West Bank.

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Associated Press writers Ian Deitch in Jerusalem and Nasser Shiyoukhi in Saeer, West Bank contributed reporting.

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