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Israel: Rights group condemns army probe into death of elderly Palestinian American

B'Tselem says report into death of Omar Muhammad Asaad, who was handcuffed and gagged by Israeli soldiers, contained 'empty words'
Asaad died of a heart attack after he was violently detained by Israeli soldiers during a raid on Jaljulia village, north of Ramallah in the occupied West Bank (Reuters)

B'Tselem, a leading Israeli rights group, has condemned an Israeli army probe into the death of an elderly Palestinian-American man last month as containing "empty words".

Israel's military said on Monday that it was dismissing two officers and would reprimand a battalion commander over the death of Omar Muhammad Asaad, 80, saying it had resulted from "a moral failure and poor decision-making".

Asaad died of a heart attack after he was violently detained by Israeli soldiers during a raid on Jaljulia village, north of Ramallah in the occupied West Bank.

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A Palestinian autopsy found Asaad, who had pre-existing heart conditions, had suffered sudden cardiac arrest caused by the stress of being manhandled.

It said that there was internal bleeding in his eyelids from being blindfolded tightly as well as other bruises on his arms and welts on his wrists from zip ties.

The two officers, a platoon and a company commander, will be stripped of their commands and "not serve in commanding roles for two years," the military said.

The three soldiers were part of the Netzah Yehuda Battalion of religious Jews. 

B'Tselem described the punishments handed to the commanders as a "slight rebuke".

Handcuffed and gagged

Asaad was driving home after midnight when soldiers stopped him, dragged him out of the car and assaulted him before leaving him lying unconscious on the ground, eyewitnesses told his family. 

Two young men who were detained in the same location as Omar told the family that he was pulled out of the car and dragged for about 200 metres. 

Soldiers aggressively handled Omar, handcuffed him, gagged him and forced him to lie on his stomach, they added. 

Later, when the Israeli forces withdrew, the two young men found Omar on the ground with the plastic handcuffs untied and “showing no signs of life”. 

The military at the time said Asaad was alive when the soldiers left him.

The army said the military police are conducting a separate investigation into the case that could lead to criminal charges.

Palestinian leaders have called for the soldiers involved to be prosecuted in an international court.

Last month, Assad's daughter Hala Hamad told the Washington Post: "We want a thorough investigation from the US government and the UN because [Israel] can't investigate their own crimes."

'Careless act'

In a summary of its investigation, the military said it found that Asaad had refused to cooperate with troops operating in the area and that "his hands were tied and he was gagged for a short time".

"It was further determined that there was no use of violence during the incident apart from when Assad was apprehended after refusing to cooperate," the military said.

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Soldiers tied his hands and gagged him and took him to a nearby building with three other detainees, it said.

The soldiers then told all the detainees they were free to leave, but after the other men left, they found Asaad still lying on the ground motionless.

Despite his age, and the fact that it was very cold, they decided to leave him in the building, claiming they assumed he was asleep and left the area without seeking medical aid.

"The soldiers failed in their obligations by leaving Assad lying on the floor without the required treatment and without reporting the incident back to their commanders," the military said.

Armed forces chief of staff Lieutenant General Aviv Kochavi said: "Leaving Mr Assad alone and without checking his condition was a careless act that runs contrary to the values of the Israel Defence Force (army), at the centre of which is the requirement to protect the sanctity of any human life."

US response

Omar, who holds American citizenship, is a father of seven children who live in the United States. He moved to America in the 1970s, where he settled with his family. He returned to live in Palestine in 2012. 

His death had sparked calls for an investigation by the US State Department and from members of Congress from Wisconsin, where Assad had previously lived for decades, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.

B'Tselem said it had recorded 77 Palestinian deaths at the hands of Israeli security forces in the West Bank last year. 

More than half of those killed were not implicated in any attacks, it added.

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