Thursday, April 17, 2008

Killing in the West Bank Exposes a Furtive War

Hamas Cleric Apparently Tortured to Death in Custody of Rival Palestinian Authority

By Griff Witte
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, April 17, 2008

"KOBAR, West Bank -- When the preacher's body arrived at the hospital, his back was scarlet where he had been whipped with pipes. His legs were black with bruises. His wrists were sliced open and bloodied.

The Palestinian Authority, which had been holding Majd Barghouti in an intelligence-service prison for the previous week, soon declared that the popular Hamas imam, or prayer leader, had died of a heart attack.

But eyewitness accounts, photographs, video and an independent Palestinian investigation released this month suggested that he was tortured to death during his February detention.

"They wanted the sheik to admit something he wasn't going to admit," said Midhat Amriyeh, a 27-year-old laborer who said he witnessed Barghouti's death from a nearby cell. "There was no way out."

Barghouti's killing offers a rare glimpse into a subterranean war that plays out daily in the West Bank, where two Palestinian factions vie for power. Fatah, which dominates the U.S.-backed Palestinian Authority, uses its power in the West Bank to keep Hamas at a disadvantage -- banning Hamas newspapers, breaking up Hamas demonstrations and shutting down Hamas-affiliated social services groups. It has also arrested hundreds of Hamas activists in the West Bank......

Friends and family of Barghouti deny that he was ever involved in violence, though they readily acknowledge that he was a fervent member of Hamas. He was, they said, heavily involved in the organization's social services network, distributing food and clothing to Kobar's poorer families.

He was also a charismatic speaker, leading the sermons in the largest of three mosques in this tiny village in the central West Bank. He had a habit of speaking out against the Palestinian Authority's crackdowns on Hamas, and his followers say that probably brought him unwanted attention from the intelligence service's informants.....

Barghouti, 44 and the father of eight, had finished leading evening prayers Feb. 14 when two cars full of plainclothes Palestinian Authority intelligence officers pulled up in front of the mosque. As rain poured down, they grabbed him, hustled him into the car and sped off, according to Omar Barghouti, a friend who witnessed the arrest.

At first, Omar Barghouti thought the imam had been taken by the Israelis. But then he noticed that one of the officers was a Palestinian with whom he had served 22 years in an Israeli jail. "Why are you doing this?" Omar Barghouti said he shouted as the cars pulled away. "This is why you were kicked out of Gaza. Haven't you learned?"......

Barghouti was denied the chance to see a lawyer and was never formally charged with a crime, according to the investigation.

After less than a week, guards had to help him to the bathroom, according to witnesses. "He was in a very bad state," said Azzam Fahal, 35, who was in a cell a few feet away from Barghouti. "He was like a small boy walking for the first time."

On his eighth night in custody, Barghouti called out in a faint voice that he was vomiting blood. He died the next day......"

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