Abbas slams Israel for deliberately stoking violence in the West Bank

Israeli security forces arrest a Palestinian man in Jerusalem’s old city, near Al-Aqsa mosque on February 25, 2013 after a group of Israeli settlers attempted to enter the compound on February 25, 2013. (AFP)

 Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas said on Monday that Israel was deliberately seeking to stoke unrest in the occupied West Bank but that Palestinians would not be provoked.

“The Israelis want chaos and we know it but we won’t let them,” Abbas said in comments at his West Bank headquarters, seemingly in response to an Israeli demand on Sunday that he calm a wave of protest in the territory.

“We want peace and freedom for our prisoners and no matter how hard they try to drag us into their schemes, we will not be dragged,” he said.

Protests in support of Palestinian prisoners on hunger strike in Israeli prisons have been building and gained new momentum with the sudden death in his cell on Saturday of 30-year-old Arafat Jaradat, a former militant of Abbas’s Fatah movement.

Palestinian officials accuse Israel of torturing him to death.

“We lost Arafat Jaradat who was arrested and came back in a coffin and this cannot pass lightly,” Abbas said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said on Sunday that “Israel passed an unequivocal demand to the Palestinian Authority to calm down the [West Bank] territory.”

Fighters revenge
Militants of the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, the armed wing of Palestinian President Abbas’s Fatah movement, vowed Monday to avenge a prisoner allegedly tortured to death in an Israeli jail.

“This horrific crime will not go unpunished, and we promise the Zionist occupation that we will respond to this crime,” said a statement distributed to crowds at the funeral of Arafat Jaradat, while masked members of the militant group fired assault rifles into the air, Agence France Presse journalists at the scene reported.

The militants were among thousands of people, many waving Fatah banners or Palestinian flags, who flocked to Sair, Jaradat’s home village near the city of Hebron in the southern West Bank, for his burial there.

“The al-Aqsa Brigades, the armed wing of the Fatah national liberation movement, mourns with all pride its hero, the martyr of freedom, the prisoner Arafat Jaradat,” the statement said, in reference to his membership of the group.

Israeli forces stayed just outside the village.

Palestinians have been staging regular protests demanding the release of prisoners, several of whom are on hunger strike, but tensions have soared since Jaradat’s death.

A Palestinian man was seriously wounded on Sunday after he was hit by live fire near Ramallah, and two others were injured in the same protest near Ofer prison, medics said.

AFP journalists saw Palestinians clash with Israeli forces in Hebron, Ramallah, Nablus and Jenin.

Issa Qaraqaa, the Palestinian minister for prisoner affairs, on Sunday accused Israel of torturing Jaradat to death, citing the preliminary findings of an Israeli-Palestinian autopsy.

Israeli prison authorities initially said he appeared to have died of a heart attack.

Qaraqaa said the autopsy, carried out at Israel’s National Forensic Institute in the presence of a Palestinian doctor, indicated bruises on Jaradat’s torso, damaged muscles and broken ribs.

Israel released a similar account of the post-mortem, but said there were “fractures in the ribs” which “could be testimony to resuscitation efforts.”

These preliminary findings “are not sufficient to determine the cause of death,” Israel’s Health Ministry said in a statement, adding that microscopic and toxicological findings are still pending.

A spokeswoman for the Israeli Prisons Service said most of the 4,500 prisoners who took part in a one-day hunger strike on Sunday to protest Jaradat’s death had resumed eating, except for about 1,000 who are on a partial hunger strike at Megiddo prison, where he died.

“They refused breakfast, and will refuse tomorrow. They’re only refusing their breakfast. They’re taking all the other meals,” Sivan Weizman told AFP.

Three hunger-strikers are still in Israeli hospitals, where they were taken at the end of last week for checkups, she said, adding that she could not divulge details of their medical condition.

Rights organizations and Palestinian prisoner support groups say the three, and a fourth prisoner under observation in the medical wing of a prison in central Israel, have been on hunger strike for several months.

The Ramallah-based Prisoners’ Club said on Saturday that another seven prisoners had joined them.

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Last Update: Monday, 25 February 2013 KSA 21:29 - GMT 18:29
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