Criticism of PA security forces piles pressure on Abbas

As accusations of corruption mount against him, U.S. and UN condemn Palestinian president for dispatching security forces to violently disperse civilian rallies protesting the death of Palestinian Authority critic Nizar Banat in custody

Reuters|
Pressure is mounting on Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas over his security forces' handling of protesters demanding his resignation since one of his biggest critics died in custody.
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  • The U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem said on Tuesday it was "deeply disturbed" by reports that protesters had been intimidated and beaten by plain-clothes officers, and the United Nations condemned what it called "totally unacceptable" attacks.
    6 View gallery
    Palestinian security officers in plainclothes detain a demonstrator during clashes that erupted following a rally protesting the death of Palestinian Authority outspoken critic Nizar Banat, in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Saturday, June 26, 2021
    Palestinian security officers in plainclothes detain a demonstrator during clashes that erupted following a rally protesting the death of Palestinian Authority outspoken critic Nizar Banat, in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Saturday, June 26, 2021
    Undercover Palestinian security officers detain a demonstrator at a protest over the death of Nizar Banat in Ramallah
    (Photo: Associated Press)
    The security forces have denied deploying officers in civilian clothing against protesters.
    But the criticism of the Palestinian Authority (PA) by such important international backers extends the already long list of problems facing Abbas, 85, after 16 years in power.
    The family of Nizar Banat, a prominent critic of the PA who died in detention on June 24, said security forces broke into his house in the West Bank city of Hebron and hit him repeatedly with a metal rod before arresting him.
    A Palestinian rights group said after conducting an autopsy that Banat had suffered blows to his head.
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    Nizar Banat
    Nizar Banat
    Nizar Banat died last week in PA custody
    (Photo: AP)
    The PA has declined direct comment on the circumstances of Banat's death but, offering his condolences, Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh said on Tuesday the judiciary would "ensure application of the law against all those found guilty".
    The death has led to days of protests in the West Bank and clashes between demonstrators and security forces.
    "We are deeply disturbed by reports that non-uniformed members of the Palestinian Authority Security Forces (PASF) harassed and used force against protesters and journalists over the weekend," a spokesperson for the U.S. Embassy said.
    The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in the Palestinian territory said one of its rights monitors covering protests in the West Bank city of Ramallah on Sunday was among dozens of people who had been attacked in a "totally unacceptable way".
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    Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas
    Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas
    Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas
    (Photo: Reuters)
    "The attack, by persons in civilian clothes, included punching, the use of pepper spray, and attempts to steal a phone being used to document events," it said on Facebook.
    Talal Dweikat, spokesperson for the Palestinian security forces, said such reports were "not true".
    "This is dishonorable talk. There were no security personnel in civilian clothes. Why would (they) wear civilian clothes?," he told the Ramallah Mix broadcaster.
    His office declined requests by Reuters for comment.
    The PA says it has investigated Banat's death, and Shtayyeh has urged Palestinians not to politicize the case.
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    הפגנות ברמאללה כמחאה על מותו של הפעיל הפלסטיני ניזאר בנאת
    הפגנות ברמאללה כמחאה על מותו של הפעיל הפלסטיני ניזאר בנאת
    Palestinian Authority security forces prepare to face demonstrators over the death of PA critic Nizar Banat
    Problems pile up
    Abbas's popularity has plummeted since he was elected in 2005, according to opinion polls. He has ruled by decree for over a decade and the PA faces widespread allegations of corruption, which it denies.
    Peace talks have been stalled since 2014, and Abbas has faced criticism for continuing to coordinate with Israel on security issues. Opponents say this enables Israel's of West Bank territory that it captured in 1967.
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    Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh and President Mahmoud Abbas attend the funeral of former senior Fatah official Ahmed Abdel Rahman, in Ramallah
    Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh and President Mahmoud Abbas attend the funeral of former senior Fatah official Ahmed Abdel Rahman, in Ramallah
    Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh, right, and President Mahmoud Abbas
    (Photo: Reuters)
    Anger deepened this year when Abbas cancelled planned elections.
    Criticism of the security forces' methods has mounted since Banat's death and Abbas's Fatah party has accused Gaza's Islamist rulers Hamas and other rival political factions of being behind them.
    Aseel AlBajeh, of the rights group Al-Haq, said she was confronted by men in civilian clothing who pushed her and took her phone when she was filming Sunday's protest in Ramallah.
    "You feel completely unsafe because you don't know if the person next to you, dressed in completely normal clothing, is going to beat you up or not," AlBajeh, 26, said.
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    עימותים בין שוטרי מג"ב לפלסטינים באזור חברון
    עימותים בין שוטרי מג"ב לפלסטינים באזור חברון
    Palestinian youths clashing with Israeli security forces in Hebron
    (Photo: EPA)
    "It is painful. As Palestinians, we have two struggles: one against an occupying power in Israel, and the other against an authoritarian regime."
    The Palestinian Journalists Syndicate said reporters had been "prevented from covering events and threatened by plain-clothes forces."
    It demanded the PA "prosecute those who assaulted journalists, and bring them to justice."

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