JERUSALEM: The Palestinian man who died in custody in an Israeli jail on Saturday showed obvious signs of torture, a senior Palestinian government minister said, calling for an independent, international investigation into his death.
Israel’s Ministry of Health said the initial autopsy results cannot – at this stage – indicate the cause of death.
Israel’s treatment of the 4500 Palestinian prisoners it holds in custody – all of whom took part in a mass hunger strike on Sunday – has prompted angry demonstrations across the West Bank over the last three days as protesters clashed with Israeli Defence Forces.
The allegations that 30-year-old Arafat Jaradat had been tortured before he died look set to guarantee the protests will spill over into a fourth day, prompting calls from Israeli politicians for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to act to prevent any further escalation in tensions.
The autopsy revealed that Mr Jaradat had broken bones in his neck, spine, ribs, arms and legs, said Issa Qaranga, the Palestinian Authority’s Minister of Prisons.
The PA’s chief pathologist, as well as other representatives, were present at the autopsy, he said. There were no signs of heart failure, as Israeli authorities alleged he died from, Mr Qaranga said.
“He did not die of a heart attack, he died from torture conducted during interrogation and we hold Israel fully responsible,” said a senior Palestinian Authority spokesman.
Israel’s Health Ministry released a statement late on Sunday night which said: “During the autopsy, no signs of external trauma were found apart from those pertaining to resuscitation [attempts] and a small graze on the right side of his chest. No evidence of disease was found during the autopsy.
“Two internal haemorrhages were detected, one on the shoulder and one on the right side of the chest. Two ribs were broken, which may indicate resuscitation attempts. The initial findings cannot determine the cause of death.”
Mr Jaradat, a father of two from the village of Sair near Hebron, whose wife Dalal is pregnant with their third child, died on Saturday in Israeli's Megiddo prison after being arrested last week on suspicion of throwing stones at Israeli soldiers.
His lawyer Kmiel Sabbagh also alleges his client was abused by his Israeli interrogators, and described his encounter with Mr Jaradat in an Israeli court on February 21.
“I sat next to him, his back was bent, he looked tired and scared; I asked if he was OK, he said that he’s suffering from sharp pain in the back and other parts of his body as he was interrogated for several hours,” Mr Sabbagh said in a statement released last night.
“Afterwards, I questioned the police investigator, I … directly asked him about Arafat’s health conditions. The judge said that the health conditions of the prisoner have been addressed in a secret report that was presented to him by the police.”
Afterwards, the judge ordered that the prison doctor check on the health of Mr Jaradat and “provide appropriate instructions to interrogation authorities as well as provide the proper treatment,” the lawyer said.
He was remanded in custody for another 12 days, the court heard. He was dead two days later.
At least four Palestinian prisoners are on open-ended hunger strikes and all are in a serious medical condition, human rights groups warn, with two going without food intermittently for more than 200 days.
They are protesting against Israel’s use of administrative detention – where a prisoner is jailed for extended periods without charge – and the use of secret evidence and repeated arrests against Palestinians.
Israel’s Prison Service is already under pressure over the death of another inmate in its care – dual Australian-Israeli citizen Ben Zygier who is suspected of spying for Mossad.
He died in Ayalon Prison in December 2010 and an investigation is underway by the State’s Attorney’s Office over whether his suicide in custody was a result of negligence.