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Death in custody: Palestinians throng PA critic Nizar Banat’s funeral

OCCUPIED JERUSALEM, Palestine: Thousands of Palestinians turned out on Friday in the occupied West Bank city of Hebron to attend the funeral of Nizar Banat, an outspoken critic of the Palestinian Authority (PA), who died in the custody of PA forces on Thursday.

Mourners travelled from across the occupied West Bank to attend Banat’s funeral prayers at Wasaya al-Rasool Mosque in Hebron and marched through the streets along with his family and friends before he was buried. The funeral began with the transfer of Banat’s body to his family home for a final farewell.

People expressed their anger at the Palestinian Authority. They called for the downfall of the PA regime and said they were under a double occupation. They also accused the PA of being hand in hand with Israel.

The chants also included calls for PA President Mahmoud Abbas to resign. Abbas, who has been president since 2005, technically finished his mandate in 2009 but continued to rule in the absence of new elections.

Banat, 43, intended to run in parliamentary 0elections before they were cancelled earlier this year. He was a harsh critic of the PA, which governs parts of the Israeli-occupied West Bank, and called on Western nations to cut off aid to it because of its growing authoritarianism and human rights violations.

The PA receives millions of dollars in foreign aid as it is recognised by the West to represent the Palestinian people.

Banat was in bed in his home in Dura in southern Hebron, when some two dozen PA officers broke into his home and started beating him in the early hours of Thursday morning, according to his family. He was dragged away screaming, local media quoted them as saying, and he was beaten on the head with batons and pieces of metal.

After conducting an autopsy, a Palestinian rights group said Banat took blows to the head, adding the wounds indicated “an unnatural death”.

Since Banat’s death, Palestinians have been widely sharing his previous writings and videos.

Videos shared on social media on Friday showed large crowds of mourners protesting against the PA following Banat’s funeral.

Armed men present vowed to avenge Banat’s death from those who killed him.

Many shouted “leave, leave Abbas” and “the people want the overthrow of the regime” as anger continued to mount against the Palestinian Authority.

In occupied East Jerusalem, hundreds of worshippers who attended Friday prayers in the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound also protested against the killing of Banat.

A statement by the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) said the investigation into Banat’s death will be “transparent and impartial”, and the results of the investigation will be announced, “at the earliest opportunity”.

Hours after Banat’s death on Thursday, large crowds of Palestinians also took to the streets in the occupied West Bank city of Ramallah to protest against his killing, but they were met with batons and tear gas fired by dozens of PA forces dressed in riot gear.

“The people want the downfall of the regime,” the protesters chanted at the city’s main al-Manara Square while others screamed, “traitors, traitors” at the security forces.

Banat was an advocate of free speech and an outspoken critic of the PA’s alleged corruption and security coordination with the Israeli military. He was known for posting his views on social media, with more than 100,000 people following his Facebook page.

He accused prominent Fatah supporters of waging an incitement campaign against him after he was accused of collaborating with Israel – a serious allegation that amounts to treason. He denied the accusation.

He also accused PA forces of perpetrating the torture of political dissidents inside its prisons.

Banat was a former member of the Fatah movement, the de facto ruling party of the PA. In the legislative elections initially scheduled in May, Banat campaigned as a candidate on the Freedom and Dignity list party.

In April, Abbas cancelled the elections, the first to be scheduled in 15 years, ostensibly because Israel would not let Palestinians in occupied East Jerusalem vote for the new Palestinian leadership. East Jerusalem is seen as the capital of a future Palestinian state as part of a two-state solution.

Many have argued, though, that the true motive was Abbas’s fear that the fractured Fatah party would suffer another humiliating defeat to Hamas, the group that governs the Gaza Strip.

A recent poll showed plummeting support for Abbas, who is facing both a loss of popularity and increasing opposition within his party.

Western nations continue to view Abbas as a key partner in the long-moribund peace process, and the European Union (EU) has provided hundreds of millions of dollars in direct aid to the PA over the years.