RAMALLAH, West Bank, June 26 (Reuters) – The Palestinian Authority (PA) on Saturday deployed security forces to confront protesters who took to the streets of Ramallah in the West Bank after the death in custody of one of the biggest detractors of President Mahmoud Abbas.
Nizar Banat was arrested by PA forces who broke into a relative’s house where he was staying in the early hours of Thursday and repeatedly hit him with a metal rod before arresting him. , according to Banat’s family.
Banat’s death sparked three days of protests in the occupied West Bank and calls from the international community for an investigation.
Palestinian security officers lined the streets on Saturday and blocked protesters by hitting them with their fists and batons, a Reuters video showed.
Police, some in riot gear, others in civilian clothes, also fired tear gas and attacked journalists, witnesses said. There were no official figures on the number of people arrested or injured.
Palestinian Authority security service spokesman Talal Dweikat said the committee investigating Banat’s death had started its work and urged people to wait for the results. He did not comment on the violence on Saturday.
The Palestinian Journalists Union condemned attacks by security forces on journalists covering the protest.
“The targeting of journalists by security men is a serious new development in the attack on free speech and the media,” the union said in a statement.
Banat, 43, was a social activist who accused Abbas’s Palestinian Authority of corruption, including over a short-lived COVID-19 vaccine swap with Israel this month and Abbas’s postponement of a long-standing election delayed in May.
The Banat had registered as a parliamentary candidate for this competition.
Crowds marched through the streets waving Palestinian flags and photos of the Banat and calling for the end of Abbas’ 16-year rule.
“We want total political reform that truly reflects the interests of the people,” protester Esmat Mansour said.
Human rights groups say Abbas regularly stops criticism. A Human Rights Watch official said Banat’s arrest was “not an anomaly.”
Abbas and the Palestinian Authority, which exercises limited autonomy in the West Bank, reject charges of corruption and arresting people for their political views.
Reporting by Ali Sawafta in Ramallah, additional reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza; Editing by Christina Fincher
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