Hamas suspect beaten to death

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A suspected member of Hamas was beaten to death by Palestinian collaborators after he refused to talk to Israeli security agents, according to Israeli army radio.

Derrick Pounder, a Scottish doctor who performed an autopsy on Abdel Samed Hrizat, 30, a computer programmer, said yesterday, in Jerusalem, that Hrizat had died from torture - "and we know how that was achieved''.

The army radio's account of Hrizat's death, three days after he was arrested in Hebron as a suspected member of the Islamic Resistance Movement Hamas, says that he was first interrogated by Shin Beth internal security agents. When he refused to talk, they sent five Palestinian collaborators into his cell and he was beaten to death.

Leah Tzemel, a member of the Israeli Committee Against Torture, said that the security service regularly used Palestinian collaborators when it failed to obtain a confession. "These collaborators use violence in line with the detailed instructions given by their superiors in Shin Beth," she said. "The responsibility lies entirely with Shin Beth.''

When the collaborators did not get the information they asked for, they obtained permission to use force. They then beat Samed Hrizat, concentrating on his head, and threw him into a cell where he was discovered - some time later - unconscious by a Shin Beth agent.He died a few hours after that in hospital.

Hrizat was arrested last Saturday in the West Bank city of Hebron, where he had allegedly been in contact with three members of Hamas shot dead in an ambush by an Israeli undercover squad on 16 April.

Some 4,000 to 6,000 Palestinians from the occupied territories are interrogated each year by Shin Beth and the Israeli army, according to a report by the New York-based Human Rights Watch/ Middle East. It says that both "engage in a systematic pattern of ill-treatment and torture". It says a detainee in the custody of the Shin Beth may spend weeks during which "he shuttles from a tiny chair to which he is painfully shackled; to a stifling, tiny cubicle in which he can barely move; to questioning sessions in which he is beaten or violently manhandled".

For 20 years after the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza in 1967, Israeli governments routinely denied ill-treatment and torture was common during interrogation. But after two Palestinians who hijacked a bus were beaten to death in 1984, a commission headed by a former Israeli Chief Justice revealed that interrogators had routinely lied about the ill-treatment of prisoners. The Landau Commission did conclude, however, that "a moderate measure of physical pressure cannot be avoided".

Palestinian prisoners and their lawyers say that in recent years there has been a shift away from severe beatings towards use of isolation, sleep deprivation and abusive body positioning. Nine months ago the Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin, relaxed the "Landau Commission rules"; since then Hrizat is the first Palestinian known to have died in detention.