Israeli interrogators force ‘confessions’ – says Palestinian prisoners’ committee

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ISRAELI interrogators are using ‘oppressive and brutal’ methods to frighten Palestinian detainees and force them into confessing to attacks against Israel, the Palestinian prisoners’ committee head said on Sunday.

Palestinian Authority Minister for Prisoners’ Affairs Issa Qarage, made his comments during a visit to prisoners’ families in the northern West Bank village of Qusin in Nablus district, where he met with former detainee Noor Muhammad Hilmi Hamamrah, 15.

Hamamrah told him that during his interrogation in the Etzion detention centre, Israeli interrogators had made him open his mouth while they used a utility knife to forcibly pry out part of his braces, causing bleeding.

An interrogator then told the young teenage boy that he would pull out all of his teeth if he didn’t confess to throwing stones at Israeli vehicles, Qarage relayed. Qarage said that the boy eventually made the confession.

Hamamrah was detained from his family home on April 15 at 3am and was taken in a military truck to the nearby Beitar Illit settlement where he was held for three hours before being taken to the detention centre.

Prisoners’ rights group Addameer has long reported that treatment of Palestinian detainees by Israeli forces tantamount to torture is ‘widespread and systematic’.

In 2014, international rights group Defence for Children reported that 93 per cent of children detained by Israeli forces were denied access to legal counsel, while others endured prolonged periods of solitary confinement for interrogation purposes, a practice that amounts to torture under international law.

Meanwhile, Israeli troops on Sunday morning detained four minors from a boys’ school in the northern West Bank village of Farun near Tulkarem, local officials said.

The secretary of Farun’s local council, Ahmad Darwish, said that the boys were arrested near a gate used by Palestinian farmers to access their land behind the Israeli separation wall.

Darwish said that Israelis refer to the gate by its number ‘708’, which is one of eight gates in Tulkarem operated by Israeli forces.

Darwish identified three of the four boys as Tariq Muhammad Fathi Badir, 12, Abd al-Rahman Sufyan Salih, 9, and Samid Amir Ahmad Omar, 13. The fourth detainee has not yet been identified.

Darwish said that the village council had contacted the Palestinian military liaison department whose director Muhammad Yasin said he had been in touch with his Israeli counterparts in an attempt to get the boys released.

An Israeli army spokeswoman’s account differed from the Palestinian version of events. She confirmed two arrests in Tulkarem, which she said came after four Palestinians threw stones at Israeli forces near crossing number ‘407’. She said that the other two ‘got away’.

She said that one of the two Palestinians detained had been handed over to Palestinian security services and the other passed on to Israeli police. She was unable to confirm their ages.

The Israeli separation wall cuts through large swathes of Palestinian land in western Tulkarem district, and farmers can only access their land through the Israeli army-administered gates.

The Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics has noted that ‘many farmers have great difficulties accessing their lands, with gates only open irregularly and for short periods, sometimes closed for several days’.

Meanwhile, Israeli forces stopped two Palestinians, including one teenage boy, at military checkpoints before taking them into custody near Nablus in the northern West Bank on Sunday morning.

Palestinian security officials said that 30-year-old Khamis Ishtewi Mubarak from Tubas had been detained at Huwwara checkpoint south of Nablus.

Separately, 15-year-old Diyaa Ismail Dweikat was detained at a flying checkpoint that Israeli forces had set up near the main entrance to the village of Beita.

An Israeli army spokeswoman said she was looking into the arrest. Israeli forces opened fire on Palestinian fishermen and farmers in the Gaza Strip on Sunday morning, with no injuries reported.

Witnesses said that Israeli naval boats fired on fishing boats off Sheikh Ijlein and Nuseirat on the northern Gazan coast, forcing the fisherman to return to land.

Meanwhile, Israeli troops stationed in watchtowers along the borders with Gaza fired gunshots at Palestinian farmers working on their fields near the border area in northwestern Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip.

Israeli forces have repeatedly opened fire on Palestinian fisherman and farmers since the ceasefire agreement signed Aug. 26, 2014 that ended a devastating 50-day Israeli military offensive against the Gaza Strip.

In March alone, there were a total of 35 incidents of shootings, incursions into the coastal enclave, and arrests, according to the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights. The shootings left 10 injured, including three minors.

The attacks come despite Israeli promises at the end of the ceasefire to ease restrictions on Palestinian access to both the sea and the border region near the ‘security buffer zone’.

l Up to 13,000 refugees have fled Syria’s beleaguered Yarmouk refugee camp in recent days in fear of the Islamic State group and al-Nusra Front, a local Palestinian official said on Saturday.

The secretary-general of the coalition of Palestinian factions in the camp, Khalid Abd al-Majid, told Jordanian newspaper al-Ghad on Saturday that fewer than 7,000 refugees remained in the camp. He added that these remaining refugees may be forced from the camp in coming days as well.

Yarmouk – once a thriving, working-class residential district of the capital and home to some 160,000 people – is the largest refugee camp in Syria, but has suffered heavily during the Syrian civil war.

Since December 2012, when the first clashes broke out between Syrian regime forces and rebels, more than 150,000 Palestinian refugees have fled from Yarmouk.

The camp came under a devastating 18-month long government siege after rebel forces took up positions inside, including elements of the extremist al-Nusra Front.

The camp was subsequently overrun by Islamic State militants in April, leading to further government bombardment. ‘It is unlikely that refugees who left the camp would be able to go back because of the ongoing armed clashes in the camp between IS and Jabhat al-Nusra,’ al-Majid said on Saturday.

He added that IS fighters have been trying to gain control of parts of the camp that are currently under the control of armed Palestinian factions.

Last week, PLO official Anwar Abdel Hadi said that while IS has been pushed to the southwest area of the Damascus district, Palestinian factions control the north and east of the camp, with ‘intermittent clashes’ breaking out.

While al-Nusra and IS are both fighting Syrian government forces, their relationship with one another inside Yarmouk remains unclear.

The former residents of Yarmouk are part of more than half a million Palestinian refugees to have suffered over the past five years of Syrian civil war.

By the end of April, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees UNRWA said they had only received 20 per cent of the funding required to aid Palestinian refugees in Yarmouk.

‘After enduring four years of conflict, two of them under siege-like conditions, and the suffering created by armed groups, the civilians in Yarmouk are at a breaking point,’ the UN agency said.

The Palestinian Authority has collected $6.4 million to support the camp through deducting a small portion of civil servants’ salaries, as well as through donations from individuals and civil society organisations.

The money, however, has not yet been sent to the refugees ‘who badly need the money,’ al-Majid said. Many refugees who have fled Yarmouk have been accommodated in sheltering centres created by the Syrian government and supervised by UNRWA and the Syrian Red Crescent Association.