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Hundreds attend funeral in al-Walaja for slain Palestinian activist Basel al-Araj

March 17, 2017 1:52 P.M. (Updated: March 19, 2017 7:21 P.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- At least 2,000 mourners took part in a funeral procession for Basel al-Araj on Friday evening, after the 31-year-old Palestinian activist was killed by Israeli forces nearly two weeks ago.

Israel has held al-Araj’s body since March 6, when Israeli forces ambushed him in a home near Ramallah in what was branded as an “execution” and an “assassination” of the man -- who was beloved in Palestinian activist circles as a freedom fighter, an intellectual, and a theorist.

Israeli authorities handed over his remains on Friday afternoon at Israel's 300 checkpoint at the entrance to the southern occupied West Bank city of Bethlehem, after which the Palestinian Red Crescent transferred the body to Beit Jala Governmental Hospital.

An autopsy conducted at the hospital determined the main cause of death to be a bullet to the heart, though at least nine other bullet wounds were identified, according to a statement from the Palestinian Ministry of Health.

In addition to the bullet that pierced his heart, several bullets hit al-Araj’s head, two bullets hit the upper part of his back, one bullet hit the right side of his chest, one bullet hit his stomach, while bullets and shrapnel also pierced his pelvis.

The funeral for al-Araj began later Friday evening after his body arrived to his hometown of al-Walaja, a small village northeast of Bethlehem.

Mourners first carried his body to the women’s mourning area, comprised of at least 300 women and children.

Amid the sound of cracking fireworks, the crowd chanted “God is great,” and “with our souls, with our blood, we sacrifice ourselves for you, martyr” -- phrases used regularly during Muslim funerals.

At least 50 Israeli soldiers were observing the funeral march from the neighboring illegal Israeli settlement of Gilo.

After burying al-Araj, mourners who had traveled to al-Walaja from across the occupied West Bank began walking back to the village's entrance.

The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) had released a statement earlier in the day calling upon all Palestinians to take part in the funeral.

“Taking part in welcoming al-Araj and organizing symbolic funerals for him across Palestine and abroad represents honoring to him as he is considered one of the most important youths who dedicated the culture of resistance as a way of life and a way of resisting the occupation and its plans,” the statement said.

Basel al-Araj, Muhammad Harb, Haitham Siyaj, Muhammad al-Salamin, Seif al-Idrissi, and Ali Dar al-Sheikh, were detained and tortured by Palestinian security forces in April last year, after the PA accused them of illegal weapons possession and planning an attack on Israel.

A hunger strike launched by the six ultimately led to their release six months later in September, with charges only being brought against them shortly before their release.

However, Harb, Siyaj, al-Salamin, and al-Idrissi were detained by Israeli forces immediately after being freed, eliciting outrage among Palestinians over the PA’s policy of security coordination with Israel.

The killing of al-Araj and the PA’s recent legal case against his fellow prison mates and activists has evoked a strong emotional response among Palestinians that has only increased since PA forces on Sunday assaulted protesters at an anti-PA demonstration in Ramallah.

Following outrage over the police brutality -- footage of which has been widely shared on social media despite attempts by security forces to block coverage -- Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah said Monday that he appointed a fact-finding committee to investigate what he called "events that took place near the court compound."

Despite Hamdallah’s investigation, PA security forces spokesman Adnan al-Dmeiri, meanwhile, accused “mercenaries” and “foreign agents” of sparking clashes to cause internal Palestinian strife, and called the protests “cheap incitement," echoing lingo used by Israeli security forces against Palestinians opposing the occupation.
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