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Israeli army opens investigation into filmed beating of Palestinian detainee

March 17, 2017 9:00 P.M. (Updated: March 19, 2017 7:36 P.M.)
Haitham Siyaj
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- Five months after a video emerged showing Israeli forces brutally assaulting a handcuffed Palestinian detainee, Israel’s military police announced that a criminal investigation into the incident was underway, according to Israeli media.

Israeli news site Ynet reported on Friday that the soldiers involved in the beating of 29-year-old Haitham Siyaj have been arrested, and that an Israeli military judge issued a gag order on further details of the case.

According to Ynet, the Israeli soldiers alleged that during his detention, Siyaj attempted to escape, prompting the soldiers to “forcefully prevent him from doing so.” The soldiers claimed Siyaj attacked them, giving the Israeli commander of the group a black eye.

Israeli army officials reportedly responded to the footage by claiming it was edited to mislead the public.

According to rights group Yesh Din, of 186 criminal investigations into suspected offenses against Palestinians opened by the Israeli army in 2015, just four resulted in indictments.

Haitham Siyaj was detained by Israeli forces in October, shortly after he was released from Palestinian jail where he had launched a hunger strike along with five other detainees in protest of their torture and mistreatment by Palestinian security forces.

Palestinians predicted that the activists would be immediately be redetained by Israeli forces, as the Palestinian Authority (PA) accused the six of planning an attack on Israel.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas touted the case as an successful example of the PA’s security coordination with Israel, which critics have called a “revolving door policy" of funneling Palestinians from PA jails into Israeli prisons.

While Siyaj and three others in the case have since been imprisoned by Israel, Basel al-Araj went into hiding for several months until he was ambushed by Israeli forces two weeks ago, 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.

After the killing, Palestinian authorities announced that the legal case against six activists -- charged with possession of unlicensed weapons and planning an attack on Israel -- remained open, despite the fact the Siyaj and three others remained in Israeli prison.

Al-Araj's killing and the PA's case against Siyaj and their fellow detainees has evoked a strong emotional response among Palestinians and sparked demonstrations, and tensions have only increased since PA forces assaulted protesters.

The court meanwhile terminated the charges against al-Araj only after his death certificate was presented to the judge. His funeral, attended by at least 2,000 mourners, was held on Friday.
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