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Tense West Bank funeral for ‘hero’ who died in Israeli jail

Thousands of mourners gather for funeral as militants threaten to begin a ‘third intifada’

Thousands of mourners gathered in the West Bank today for the funeral of Arafat Jaradat, a Palestinian man who died in an Israeli jail under disputed circumstances.

The case has heightened tensions, with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas accusing Israel of causing “chaos” in the West Bank by intentionally killing Palestinians.

More than 10,000 mourners joined the funeral procession for Mr Jaradat, who died on Saturday after interrogation in Megiddo Prison. The 30-year-old was buried in his home village of Si’ir, near Hebron, his body draped in a Palestinian flag.

Palestinian officials say he was tortured, but Israeli pathologists said they were waiting for test results to determine the cause of death. They said bruising and damage to Mr Jaradat’s ribs observed during a post-mortem on Sunday were consistent with attempts to resuscitate him after an apparent heart attack.

Mass protests over Mr Jaradat’s death continued in the West Bank today, after Palestinian officials called for an international inquiry.

“Israel is killing our children with live fire,” Mr Abbas said today. “We won’t let Israel create chaos in the West Bank… no matter how hard they try to drag us into their schemes, we will not be dragged.”

Israel rejected the charge, accusing Mr Abbas of encouraging unrest. In Jerusalem, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu summoned his security chiefs for emergency consultations and placed Israeli forces in the West Bank on maximum alert after the Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade, the military wing of Mr Abbas’s Fatah movement, threatened to avenge Mr Jaradat’s death with a “third intifada” uprising.

At the funeral, mourners chanted “we sacrifice our souls and blood for you, our martyr” as masked gunmen from the Al-Aqsa Brigades, making their first public appearance for several years, fired in the air.

After the ceremony, some youths began throwing stones at Israeli troops but fears of widespread clashes failed to materialise. Israeli forces – apparently under orders not to use lethal force – responded with teargas and rubber bullets.

Adding to the tension, Monday was also the 19th anniversary of the killing of 29 Muslim worshippers at the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron by Israeli gunman Baruch Goldstein.

“We are not planning an intifada, but Israeli policy is only fanning the flames at the moment,” said Nabil Sha’ath, a senior Fatah official. “If Israel continues this way, the entire region is liable to become involved in a dangerous spiral.”

But Yitzhak Aharonovich, Israel’s Minister for Public Security, said responsibility for the growing unrest lay squarely with the Palestinian leadership. “Israel is also taking its own actions but they must calm things down, first and foremost because it won’t be good for the Palestinians,” he said.

Amos Gilad, a senior Israeli Defence Ministry official, warned Palestinian leaders that by encouraging popular protests they could end up triggering violence.

“The Palestinian Authority is apparently trying to walk a fine line,” he said. “The problem is … you never know when things will get out of control.”