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Israeli soldiers unlikely to face consequences over elderly Palestinian American's death

Leaked summary of Israeli investigation into the death of Omar Muhammad Asaad, 80, suggests no soldiers are likely to be prosecuted, Washington Post reports
The body of Omar Muhammad Asaad, 80, being carried by mourners at his funeral, on 13 January 2022 (Reuters)

Israeli soldiers are unlikely to face consequences over the death of an 80-year-old Palestinian American who died shortly after he was detained in the occupied West Bank, according to a leaked summary of an Israeli investigation into his death, the Washington Post reported.

Omar Muhammad Asaad, 80, was stopped by Israeli soldiers when driving home after midnight on 12 January in Jaljulia village, north of Ramallah.

A vegetable seller who found his body told the Reuters news agency on 12 January that Asaad was found lying face down and blindfolded, with a plastic zip-tied around one wrist and showing no signs of life.

According to a leaked summary of an Israeli investigation into his death published by Ynet in Hebrew, the Washington Post reported that despite investigators confirming that Asaad was dragged from his car, blindfolded and handcuffed before falling silent while being held at a construction site, no soldiers were likely to be prosecuted.

According to the report, Israeli soldiers never sought medical aid for Asaad, even though a military medic was at hand. Five soldiers, including a company commander and a platoon commander, told investigators that they thought Asaad had simply fallen asleep and that he had demonstrated no signs of being ill.

"We did not identify any signs of distress on him: a cry for help or, for example, the gripping of his hand to his chest," the soldiers said, according to the report.

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They also confirmed that Asaad was gagged and had his hands tied at the time, the report said.

An American citizen who lived in Chicago and Milwaukee for more than 40 years, Asaad returned to the occupied West Bank 10 years ago. 

His cousin, Abd al-Ilah Asaad, told Middle East Eye that he had died of a heart attack "as a result of the assault on him by the Israeli army and the panic it caused".

Several US lawmakers have demanded a probe into his death, with Senator Tammy Baldwin, who represents Asaad's state of Wisconsin, calling the incident a "horrible tragedy that demands a thorough investigation".

The US State Department has also called on Israel to conduct a "thorough investigation".

Speaking to the Washington Post last Sunday, Asaad's family called for an international investigation into his death.

"We want justice," said Hala Hamad, Asaad's daughter. "We want a thorough investigation from the US government and the UN because [Israel] can't investigate their own crimes."

Israeli human rights group B'Tselem suggested on Sunday that no Israeli soldiers would be held accountable and the probe was shaping up as a "whitewash".

"A chronicle of whitewashing foretold," said B'Tselem in a tweet. "Soldiers arrested innocent drivers in the dead of night, took an 80 YO to a deserted building, gagged and handcuffed him and left him there. He died. The investigation will be over soon, the army will exonerate the soldiers."