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Arafat's men try to hush up jail death

At midnight, Palestinian special police came to the house of Suhailah Fityani in Jericho and told her that her son was dead. A few hours before, Rashid Fityani, held without trial for nearly two years in the local prison, where he was repeatedly tortured, had been killed by a guard during a scuffle.

At first the police story was that Fityani, 26, had tried to escape. Later, a police official said he was working outside his cell when he got into an argument, which turned into a fist fight, and finally a guard, whom he had beaten up, shot him dead.

It did not seem very likely. Fityani was the second member of a group of six men from Jericho, one of the Palestinian autonomous areas, to die in the town's central prison after they were arrested on the same day last year, accused of collaborating with Israel.

His death confirms the reputation of the Palestinian Authority, led by Yasser Arafat, for ill-treating prisoners held by its 11 different police and security forces. At least nine other people have died as a result of torture in the past two years, according to an Amnesty report this week. "It is terrible, a dark day for Palestinian society and fully confirming what Amnesty says about systematic torture," said Bassem Eid, of the Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group, yesterday.

Fityani differs from the other 2,000 Palestinians arrested and held without trial by the Palestinian Authority in that the last two years of his life can be fully documented. He was arrested early on 15 January 1995 by men from the Preventive Security Service, the largest Palestinian secret- police agency.

Detained with him was his brother-in-law, Salman Jalaytah, 45, and four other men. The Preventive Security believed they were Israeli collaborators involved in the killing of an Islamic militant in a refugee camp outside Jericho. In testimony published by Amnesty, Fityani told his family he and Jalaytah were tortured in the same room for three days.

Both were allegedly given electric shocks and beaten with cables. Their flesh was pinched with pliers. They were given nothing to eat or drink for three days, at the end of which Jalaytah died. His body was taken to Jericho hospital; his family saw he was bruised but no autopsy report was published. Fityani was given half a cup of tea and a bowl of porridge a week after being arrested.

The police in Jericho did not show much confidence that their story of how Fityani died would stand up to much investigation. Issam Jalaita, the guard who shot the prisoner, either in self-defence or as he tried to escape, according to officials, had been arrested and was in jail. At the hospital there was an armed police guard preventing anybody seeing the Fityani's body and another outside the house of his mother, Suhailah. He refused to let anybody enter, citing "orders", though he refused to say from whom. A member of Preventive Security told journalists gathering outside the house that "the family does not want to talk to you. Please leave".

At this point, a window in the green door behind the Preventive Security man flew open and Suhailah Fityani, a diminutive woman of about 60, in traditional Palestinian embroidered dress, shouted: "Why won't you let me talk to the press? My son was in a jail without trial for two years and then they killed him." As a security man forced Mrs Fityani away from the door she screamed: "Get your hand off me or I'll break it. I want to talk."

More police arrived and tried unsuccessfully to disperse the small crowd of journalists. After half an hour the green door was opened again, this time by a Preventive Security agent, who smirked as he ushered forward Mrs Fityani. In a chastened voice she said: "I want you all to go away. Nothing you do can give me back my son. He died a supporter of Abu Amar [Yasser Arafat]."