Palestinians outraged after activist ‘beaten to death’ in PA custody

Palestinians outraged after activist ‘beaten to death’ in PA custody
In early May, gunmen fired bullets, stun grenades and tear gas at Nizar Banat’s home near the West Bank city of Hebron. (Reuters)
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Updated 24 June 2021

Palestinians outraged after activist ‘beaten to death’ in PA custody

Palestinians outraged after activist ‘beaten to death’ in PA custody
  • UN, EU lead international condemnation of Nizar Banat’s death; independent committee formed to investigate

AMMAN: Nizar Banat, a vocal critic of the Palestinian Authority (PA), died on Thursday after security forces stormed his house and arrested him. Banat’s family said he was stripped and suffered a sustained beating during which he was hit with an object used to break a window. His death triggered angry protests in the occupied West Bank.

Banat, 43, was a human rights activist from Hebron, known for the videos he posted on Facebook in which he denounced alleged corruption in the PA.

Authorities in Hebron governorate said his “health deteriorated” when police arrived to arrest him early on Thursday. He was taken to hospital but pronounced dead, they added.

Banat’s cousin, Hussein Banat, told news agency Agence France-Presse that about 25 armed men burst into the activist’s house while he was sleeping and used pepper spray to subdue him.

“A large force entered and aggressively took off all of his clothes then beat him for eight minutes straight," he said.

Speaking to Al-Quds news website, Banat’s family accused security forces of “hitting him on the head with wooden sticks and bits of iron” and “deliberately murdering” him. They said he was bleeding as he was taken to a police vehicle.

The official cause of the death remains unclear and his relatives have yet to see his body, despite checking with all local hospitals. They said they will only accept the results of an investigation into the death if it is carried out by an independent coroner.

The EU said it was “shocked and saddened” by the incident and called for a “full, independent and transparent investigation.”

Following demands by the UN, Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh ordered the formation of an investigation committee that includes the PA’s Independent Commission for Human Rights (ICHR). The commission said it will work with independent Palestinian rights group Al-Haq to conduct the inquiry.

In a message posted on Twitter, Al-Haq said it and the ICHR have, with the blessing of the Banat family, appointed a doctor to carry out an official autopsy.

Maj. Gen. Talal Dweikat, a spokesman for the Palestinian security forces, said the government is ready to implement any recommendations from the investigating committee.

The announcement of the inquiry did little to calm the anger among Palestinians about what they see as the latest example of the increasingly autocratic rule of President Mahmoud Abbas.

“Abbas, go,” protesters chanted as they held portraits of Banat. Security forces fired tear gas into the crowds; one person was hit in the face by a canister and hospitalized.

The Palestinian Coalition for Accountability and Integrity (AMAN) described the assault and excessive use of force on Banat as “a flagrant violation of the human rights and dignity of Palestinian citizens and provisions of the Palestinian Basic Law.”

The organization also called for the investigative committee to “gain the approval of the victim’s family” and stressed the need to “publish the results of the inquiry with all due transparency to the Palestinian public.”

AMAN criticized the concentration of power in the hands of a single absolute authority and called for the immediate restoration of the right of Palestinian citizens to political participation by holding a general election.

Ahmad Budeiri, a journalist in Jerusalem, told Arab News that Banat was a carpenter by trade who had no interest other than improving the lives of the Palestinian people.

“He sought reform not violence, yet he was repeatedly beaten, he was arrested many times even though he never committed a crime, and he was threatened with assassination,” he said. “He loved the homeland and wanted the best for Palestine.”

Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, said it holds Abbas “fully responsible for the repercussions” of Banat’s death.


UK told to ‘respond severely’ after Briton killed on Israeli vessel

UK told to ‘respond severely’ after Briton killed on Israeli vessel
Updated 31 July 2021

UK told to ‘respond severely’ after Briton killed on Israeli vessel

UK told to ‘respond severely’ after Briton killed on Israeli vessel
  • Israeli FM blames Iran for drone attack off Oman coast
  • UK govt spokesman: “Vessels must be allowed to navigate freely in accordance with international law”

LONDON: Israel has told the UK to “respond severely” after a British citizen was killed in a drone attack on a ship in the Arabian Gulf.
Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid blamed Iran for the attack which, US officials say, saw several drones laden with explosives flown into the Mercer Street tanker, one of which hit the crew’s living quarters.
The assault on the vessel, operated by Israeli-owned firm Zodiac Maritime, occurred off the coast of Oman on Friday, killing the Briton — who is thought to have been working as a security guard on board — and a Romanian citizen.
The UK government has yet to comment on who it believes is responsible for the attack, or to identify the deceased.
“Our thoughts are with the loved ones of a British national who has died following an incident on a tanker off the coast of Oman,” a UK government spokesman said.
“Vessels must be allowed to navigate freely in accordance with international law. We are working with our international partners to urgently establish the facts.”
Tensions between Iran and Israel have escalated in recent months amid talks between Tehran and Western nations in Vienna to reignite the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, also known as the Iran nuclear deal.
Israel is thought to be behind a series of strikes on Iran’s infrastructure relating to its uranium enrichment program.
Both sides are believed to have launched cyberattacks against each other and targeted their respective maritime links, including ships and ports.
“Iran is spreading violence and destruction in every corner of the region,” an Israeli official told the Daily Telegraph. “Due to its enthusiasm for attacking an Israeli target, they have gotten themselves tangled up and have incriminated themselves by killing foreign citizens.”
Iranian news network Al-Alam claimed that the attack on the Mercer Street was retaliation for Israeli airstrikes in Syria on Iranian targets last week that killed two “resistance fighters.” Tehran, though, has yet to comment on Lapid’s accusation.
Behnam Ben Taleblu, a senior fellow at the US Foundation for Defense of Democracies said: “It would be no surprise to me that Iran would use a drone to carry out its tit-for-tat against Israel and maritime vessels. Iran has shown a gradual escalation in (the) maritime domain.”
He added: “This sort of tit-for-tat escalation is going to continue and Iran is likely to step up these attacks ... to signal that it will not take any cyber sabotage against it lying down.”


Israel pushes for UN action against Iran over deadly ship attack

Israel pushes for UN action against Iran over deadly ship attack
Updated 31 July 2021

Israel pushes for UN action against Iran over deadly ship attack

Israel pushes for UN action against Iran over deadly ship attack
  • Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said he has ordered the nation’s diplomats to push for UN action against “Iranian terrorism”

JERUSALEM: Israel is pressing for international action against Iran over a deadly attack on a ship managed by an Israeli billionaire, branding Tehran an “exporter of terrorism” after the likely drone strike.
The MT Mercer Street tanker was struck Thursday in the northern Indian Ocean, killing two crew members, in what the United States said was a drone-style attack.
There has been no claim of responsibility for the strike, but maritime industry analysts Dryad Global said “this latest attack has the hallmarks of the ongoing Israel/Iran ‘shadow war’.”
On Friday Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said he has ordered the nation’s diplomats to push for UN action against “Iranian terrorism.”
“I’ve instructed the embassies in Washington, London and the UN to work with their interlocutors in government and the relevant delegations in the UN headquarters in New York,” Lapid said on Twitter.
“Iran is not just an Israeli problem, but an exporter of terrorism, destruction and instability that are hurting us all,” he said.
“We must never remain silent in the face of Iranian terrorism, which also harms freedom of navigation,” Lapid added.
Lapid said he had also spoken to his British counterpart Dominic Raab, stressing “the need to respond severely to the attack on the ship in which a British citizen was killed.”
Zodiac Maritime, the tanker’s London-based operator owned by Israeli billionaire Eyal Ofer, said a Romanian national also died in the attack.
The Mercer Street, an oil products tanker, was traveling from Dar es Salaam in Tanzania to Fujairah in the United Arab Emirates with no cargo aboard when it was struck, Zodiac Maritime said.


The US military said that early indications “clearly point” to a drone strike on the Mercer Street, a Japanese-owned tanker flying a Liberian flag.
Iran’s Arabic-language Al-Alam state TV channel, citing “informed regional sources,” said the attack was a “response to a recent Israeli attack” targeting an airport in central Syria where Iran is backing the regime.
Israeli retired Brig. Gen. Shlomo Brom said the attack appeared to copy elements of a reported Israeli exploding drone strike on a centrifuge manufacturing site in Iran in June.
Israel, Brom told AFP, “started developing drones and is among the first (countries) to develop the concept of a kamikaze.
“The Iranians are imitating us and adopting the same techniques,” said Brom, now a senior research fellow at Israel’s Institute for National Security Studies.
Iran’s strike marked “a certain escalation” but aimed at avoiding a full-scale war,” he said.
“They are not interested in a wider escalation, just as we are not interested in a wider escalation,” Brom added.
In June, Iran said it had foiled a sabotage attack on an atomic energy agency building near the city of Karaj west of Tehran.
But aerial photographs obtained by private Israeli intelligence firm The Intel Lab revealed damage to the site.


Several unmanned Iranian drones appear to have carried out the attack on the Mercer Street, crashing into living quarters under the ship’s command center, the New York Times reported citing anonymous Israeli officials.
A US official told the newspaper Americans boarded the ship to investigate the attack.
By Friday afternoon, Zodiac Maritime said the ship was “sailing under the control of her crew” to a safe location under the protection of a US naval escort.
The strike on the tanker comes as European powers meet with Iran in an effort to shore up a 2015 agreement to curtail the Islamic republic’s nuclear program in exchange for lifting sanctions.
The accord was strained when in 2018 former US President Donald Trump withdrew the US unilaterally and reimposed sanctions.
Negotiations in Vienna, where the US is indirectly taking part, have stalled ahead of next week’s inauguration of newly elected ultra-conservative Iranian president Ebrahim Raisi.
Dryad Global said the attack was the fifth against a ship connected to Israel since February. Two ships tied to Iran were attacked in that period, the firm said.


Tunisian security forces place prominent judge under house arrest

Tunisian security forces place prominent judge under house arrest
Updated 31 July 2021

Tunisian security forces place prominent judge under house arrest

Tunisian security forces place prominent judge under house arrest

TUNIS: A Tunisian judge who has been accused by human rights groups of hiding terrorism-related files has been placed under house arrest for 40 days, local radio and a security source said on Saturday.
The move against Judge Bechir Akremi came after President Kais Saied pledged to lead a campaign against corruption in all sectors, following his dismissal this week of the prime minister and freezing of parliament.
Right activists in Tunisia see Akremi as symbolizing corruption in the judiciary, saying he is close to the Ennahda moderate Islamist party, the biggest party in parliament.
Lawyers and secular parties said files he allegedly hid include those related to the assassination of two secular leaders Chokri Belaid and Mohamed Brahmi in 2013, which led to massive protests at the time that ended with the overthrow of the government.
Akremi has not commented on these accusations and was not immediately available to comment on Saturday.
Ennahda rejects accusations that it has ties to the judge or that it has interfered in judicial files.
Tunisia has been thrust into a political crisis by Saied's action on Sunday. Ennahda and other major parties have accused the president of a coup, which he denies. 


US-led coalition says provided Iraq military with weapons worth $5 billion since 2014

US-led coalition says provided Iraq military with weapons worth $5 billion since 2014
Updated 31 July 2021

US-led coalition says provided Iraq military with weapons worth $5 billion since 2014

US-led coalition says provided Iraq military with weapons worth $5 billion since 2014

DUBAI: The US-led coalition has provided the Iraqi security forces with equipment worth more than $5 billion since 2014, the bloc’s spokesman said Friday.

“Only in the last week, the international coalition equipped the Iraqi security forces with equipment worth 35 million dollars,” international coalition spokesman Colonel Wayne Morato said.

“This is part of From the Fund for financing, training and equipping the Iraqi security forces, which was supported by the American forces,” he added. 

This includes communications and intelligence equipment as well as other support, Morato added in a statement to the Iraqi News channel, carried by the Iraqi News Agency (INA). 

“The support will continue to support the Iraqi forces, and perhaps in the future and in light of the decision to withdraw combat forces, and it will be left to a decision by the Iraqi and American governments,” the spokesman said. 

Last week,  an Iraqi army official said that Iraq's relationship with the international coalition will be based on  fighting terrorism, providing training and equipment to Iraqi forces, and intelligence effort, the INA reported.


Houthi-controlled areas largest hotbeds for human trafficking, Yemeni minister says

Houthi-controlled areas largest hotbeds for human trafficking, Yemeni minister says
Updated 31 July 2021

Houthi-controlled areas largest hotbeds for human trafficking, Yemeni minister says

Houthi-controlled areas largest hotbeds for human trafficking, Yemeni minister says
  • Yemeni official calls on the UN, the international community and human rights groups to help the victims of the Houthi militia’s crimes

DUBAI: Areas in Yemen controlled by the Houthi militias have become the largest hotbeds of human trafficking, Muammar Al-Eryani, the conflict-ridden country’s information minister, said.

Al-Eryani issued the statement as the world celebrated International Day for Combating Human Trafficking on July 30.

The Houthi militia’s coup and war have undermined the efforts made by the state before 2014 in combating human trafficking in terms of regulations, laws and field procedures, the official said, in a report from state news agency Saba.

The militia’s “policy of child soldier recruitment, disappearance of women in secret prisons, sexual abuse, enforced waves of internal and external displacements, and high rates of poverty and unemployment, have made the areas under Houthi control the largest hotbeds of human trafficking in the world,” Al-Eryani said.

The Yemeni official called on the UN, the international community and human rights groups to help the victims of the Houthi militia’s crimes in human trafficking and to bring those responsible for these crimes to justice by treating them as “war criminals.”