UN demands investigation as Abbas critic dies in Palestinian custody

Mr Banat had planned to stand for elections before they were cancelled

Yosri Al Jamal
Thursday 24 June 2021 12:23 BST
Nizar Banat was 43 years old
Nizar Banat was 43 years old (AP)

A Palestinian parliamentary candidate who criticised the internationally-backed Palestinian Authority died on Thursday after being arrested by PA security forces, drawing international demands for an investigation.

According to a relative, Nizar Banat was beaten as he was taken away by Palestinian security forces in Hebron overnight. The PA-appointed governor of the city, located in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, said Banat had died when his health detiorated following his arrest, without elaborating on the cause.

Mr Banat, 43, was a well-known social activist who had accused the PA of corruption, including over President Mahmoud Abbas’ postponement of a long-delayed election in May and a short-lived Covid-19 vaccine exchange with Israel this month.

He had planned to stand for parliament in the election, before Mr Abbas postponed it.

A family member who told Reuters he witnessed Mr Banat’s arrest, said a large security force stormed a house where Mr Banat was staying and assaulted him. Mr Banat was alive when he was taken away and screaming as he was beaten, said the relative, who asked not to be identified.

Hebron Governor Jibrin Al-Bakri said in a statement that Mr Banat’s arrest was on the orders of the PA attorney-general. Officials did not immediately give a reason for the arrest.

As Mr Banat was taken into custody, “his health condition deteriorated, and he was immediately transferred to Hebron’s governmental hospital. He was checked by doctors who pronounced him dead,” Mr Bakri’s statement said. Reuters contacted a spokesperson for the Palestinian Authority asking for more details of the arrest but there was no immediate reply.

The United Nations Middle East peace envoy, Tor Wennesland, said on Twitter he was alarmed and saddened by the death, and called for a transparent investigation.

“The perpetrators must be brought to justice,” Mr Wennesland said, offering condolences to Mr Banat’s family.

The European Union delegation to the Palestinians said on Twitter it was “shocked and saddened” by the death. A “full, independent and transparent investigation should be conducted immediately,” it added.

Lynn Hastings, UN resident and humanitarian coordinator, called the news “disturbing” and also called for those responsible to be brought to justice.

The PA exercises limited self-rule in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, home to 3.1 million Palestinians.

On Monday, Mr Banat, who had 100,000 Facebook followers, condemned PA officials as “mercenaries” over the Covid-19 vaccine exchange deal, which the PA swiftly cancelled.

The Palestinian Independent Commission for Human Rights said it viewed Mr Banat’s death with “great severity” and had launched an investigation.

Mr Banat had planned to run for the Palestinian parliament on 22 May Mr Abbas called off that election, citing Israeli controls over Palestinians in East Jerusalem. Opponents accuse Mr Abbas of cancelling the election to avoid losing to Islamist rivals.

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