WEST BANK (Dispatches) – Angry demonstrators clashed with Palestinian security forces during a third day of protests on Sunday in the occupied West Bank over the death of an outspoken critic of the Palestinian Authority (PA) who died while in PA custody.
Hundreds gathered in the city of Ramallah – the headquarters of the PA – to chant slogans against President Mahmoud Abbas, two days after Abbas’s forces arrested activist Nizar Banat.
According to Banat’s family, two dozen officers beat him on the head with batons and metal rods. His death was confirmed a few hours after his arrest.
The protesters held Palestinian flags and posters of Banat, and called on the 85-year-old Abbas to quit. “The people want to overthrow the regime,” they chanted, along with, “step down, Abbas!”
“We want a total political reform that will truly reflect the interests of the people,” protester Esmat Mansour told Reuters news agency.
As the protesters began to march to Abbas’ office compound, a group of the president’s supporters blocked the rally, prompting an exchange of stone-throwing between the two sides. Palestinian security forces in riot gear fired tear gas and stun grenades at the protesters, sending many running for cover.
Later, Abbas’ supporters gathered in a counter-rally, with dozens chanting: “People want Abbas as president.”
At least five journalists – four of them women – were wounded in the protests.
In videos he had posted on social media, Banat had repeatedly criticized the Palestinian Authority for corruption and its security coordination with the Zionist regime in the West Bank.
He had also blasted Abbas over a short-lived COVID-19 vaccine exchange with the occupying regime earlier this month, and slammed his decision to postpone a long-delayed Palestinian election in May, for which he had registered as a parliamentary candidate.
The spokesman for Ramallah-based security services, Talal Dweikat, said the committee investigating Banat’s death had begun its work, calling on Palestinians to wait for the results.
Abbas and the Palestinian Authority, which exercises limited self-rule in the West Bank, reject accusations of corruption.
Human rights groups say authorities in Ramallah regularly arrest critics for their political views.