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Jail death puts Gaza police on spot

JERUSALEM - The pattern of Fareed Hashim abu Jarboua's death was familiar to Palestinians in Gaza, used to the Israeli occupation, writes Sarah Helm.

First he was arrested without charge and taken for interrogation, with no access to a lawyer. Several days later his parents were told that he had died in detention, apparently from a heart attack.

Like many Palestinian parents who had listened to Israeli explanations of events, they did not believe the authorities. The body bore signs of torture, including large bruises on the abdomen, legs and wrists. There were also marks on the back and chest. The difference this time, however, was that the family's allegations of torture were levelled not at Israelis but at the Palestinian police, because Jarboua died in a Palestinian jail.

The death is proving a test case for the new Palestinian authority and for Palestinian human rights groups. Swift reaction from the new Palestinian political leadership suggests they understand that their grace period, during which the police have operated outside any clear rule of law, cannot last much longer.

Aware that damaging comparisons could be drawn with Israeli interrogation techniques, Freih abu Middein, the Palestinian Minister of Justice, announced that an autopsy had been ordered and confirmed the death had been 'caused by the use of violence.'

Three Palestinian security officers had been arrested and the matter would be fully investigated, he said. Local human rights groups raised the alarm about the death. They called for a full inquiry and far-reaching safeguards to protect prisoners in future.