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US investigating ultra-Orthodox Israeli battalion for abuses: Report

Netzah Yehuda has come under fire from rights groups for violence against Palestinians
Netzah Yehuda members hold morning prayers during training in the Israeli annexed Golan Heights, on 19 May 2014 (AFP)

The US State Department has requested an internal review into the ultra-Orthodox Netzah Yehuda battalion of the Israeli army, amid several allegations of abuse against Palestinians in the occupied West Bank.

US embassy staff in Israel have collected reports by Israeli media and human rights organisations and interviewed Palestinians and Israelis about the battalion's actions, according to a report by Haaretz.

The internal report is examining whether to recommend that the Israeli military remove the troops of the battalion from the West Bank for longer periods of time. Unlike other troops, members of the Netzah Yehuda battalion are deployed in the West Bank for 8-10 months a year.

Netzah Yehuda came under scrutiny earlier this year after an elderly Palestinian man died of a heart attack after he was violently detained by soldiers of the battalion.

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Omar Muhammad Asaad, an 80-year-old Palestinian man with US citizenship, was detained by Netzah Yehuda soldiers north of Ramallah in the occupied West Bank.

According to eyewitnesses, Asaad was handcuffed, gagged and forced to lie on his stomach before being left in that position by the departing Israeli soldiers. He was later found by the side of the road and pronounced dead from cardiac arrest.

Asaad’s death sparked calls for an investigation by the US State Department and from members of Congress from Wisconsin, where Assad had previously lived for decades.

On 24 August, a video emerged of soldiers from the unit beating Palestinians near Ramallah. The unit has repeatedly come under fire from human rights groups for its actions in the occupied West Bank.

The battalion, established in the late 1990s in an attempt to encourage the enlistment of ultra-Orthodox men into the military, is a magnet for far-right volunteers. Many of the recruits have come from the "Hilltop Youth", an ultra-nationalist settler group active in attacks against Palestinians in the occupied West Bank.

After its inception, it consisted of 30 members but now is a fully functioning battalion with at least 1,000 soldiers. 

Middle East Eye contacted the US State Department for comment on the report but did not receive a reply by the time of publication.

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