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Palestinian Security Unit Accused of Torture : Mideast: Israeli human rights group says special police force is terrorizing West Bank residents, illegally detaining suspects.


JERUSALEM — Even before Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat has reached agreement with Israel on extending his authority throughout the West Bank, his security forces are terrorizing area residents, Israeli and Palestinian human rights groups assert.

Btselem, an Israeli human rights organization that in the past has harshly criticized Israel's human rights record in the West Bank, issued a report Thursday accusing the Preventive Security Service, a branch of the Palestinian Authority's police force, of "gross violations of human rights" in the West Bank, including illegal detentions and torture.

Bassam Eid, a fieldworker who took the testimony of 15 Palestinians who alleged that they were harassed, arrested and sometimes tortured by Preventive Security, said that the security force is using tactics similar to those used by Shin Bet, the Israeli force responsible for West Bank security.

In many instances, "Palestinian interrogators were in the past the victims of the Israelis," Eid said. "They learned these methods [of interrogation], and this is what they are now applying to their nation."

Eid took testimony from people who said they were tied up for days in Preventive Security jails in Jericho. Others said they were denied sleep and kept from visits by families or lawyers. Several of those interviewed complained of being beaten by their interrogators. None of those detained were subsequently charged with offenses or brought to trial.

Preventive Security officers rejected the report's findings. "It is impossible for a freedom fighter, a Palestinian who has been in the struggle for freedom, to play the role of an occupation soldier," said Rashid abu Shubak, a senior officer of Preventive Security in the Gaza Strip. "We are here to protect our people. We are nothing like the Israelis."

But some prominent Palestinians said Btselem's report highlighted practices that Palestinians find increasingly worrisome.

"In the last year, since the Palestinian Authority started its operation, there are many violations of human rights committed by different machinery of security," said Eyad Sarraj, director of the Palestinian Independent Commission for Citizens' Rights. "It is creating a terrible atmosphere in which every Palestinian feels very apprehensive, very scared. Many people are voicing concern that the majority is becoming a silent majority, afraid to speak."


Under the terms of Israel's September, 1993, peace accord with the Palestinians and subsequent agreements, Preventive Security is supposed to operate only in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank town of Jericho until Israel and the Palestinians reach agreement on extending self-rule throughout the West Bank. Btselem points out that Israel remains responsible for security in the West Bank.

But with the Israelis' tacit agreement, Preventive Security has been operating throughout the West Bank for months and has opened offices in all major towns and some large villages. Over Israel's objections, Preventive Security also operates sporadically in Jerusalem. The Israelis do not recognize any Palestinian right of governance in Jerusalem.

In its report, Btselem says that Preventive Security concentrates on apprehending Palestinians suspected of committing property crimes or "moral" offenses, ranging from selling drugs to adultery. But Sarraj and other Palestinians said they fear that Preventive Security is also targeting political dissenters.

Btselem's report was issued just days after a Palestinian academic known for his radical opposition to Arafat's peace treaty with Israel was shot by three men outside his Nablus home. No one claimed responsibility for the attack, but Abdel-Sattar Qassem said he thinks the gunmen were members of Preventive Security, and his claims are widely believed among Palestinians.


"The mood in the street is one of disgust," said Mohammed Daragmah, a reporter in Nablus for Jerusalem's Al Quds newspaper. "People think that this hit was an attack on all thinkers."

The shooting occurred Sunday, just a day after Preventive Security ordered Al Quds not to publish for a day because it had printed advertisements and articles critical of the Palestinian Authority, headed by Arafat.

Qassem, a political scientist at An Najah University in Nablus, was on his way home from campus in the morning when a car stopped and one of the men inside asked him to identify himself, Qassem told reporters. When he told the men his name, two took out guns and began shooting, Qassem said. He was shot in the hand and twice in his legs.

Qassem said in an interview in July that he might run against Arafat for the office of president of the Palestinian Authority if elections are held in the West Bank and Gaza. He said he had formed a political movement with others who believe the peace accords between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization should be abandoned.

After Sunday's shooting, Qassem told reporters that he had received death threats after publishing a blistering attack on Arafat in Al Watan, a Gaza City newspaper that is sympathetic to the Hamas Islamist movement.

Col. Jibril Rajoub, commander of the Preventive Security Service in the West Bank, denied that his force attacked Qassem. "I do not support what happened," Rajoub said. "My men have nothing to do with the shooting. . . . He is not important enough for us to deal with."

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