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Suspects detained in torture death of Palestinian land dealer

February 5, 1997

NABLUS, West Bank (AP) _ Palestinian police have detained several suspects in the death of a Nablus land dealer who was tortured while in Palestinian custody, the attorney general said Wednesday.

Yousef Baba, 32, died in a Nablus hospital Saturday after being held without charges for a month by Palestinian military intelligence, one of eight rival security agencies set up by Yasser Arafat since Palestinian self-rule began in parts of the West Bank and Gaza Strip in May 1994.

About 200 people joined Baba’s funeral procession Wednesday in the Askar refugee camp near Nablus.

Said Baba, one of the victim’s brothers, said he saw signs of beatings on the body Wednesday, including ``marks on his legs and arms, evidence that his legs were chained.″

Baba had told a nurse before losing consciousness that he was badly beaten during interrogation. Baba’s family has said he was arrested because he refused to sell a plot of land to Palestinian police.

Baba was the 11th Palestinian to die in detention since the start of self-rule.

The Palestinian attorney general, Khaled Kidreh, said Wednesday that an investigation conducted by his office has led to several arrests and that witnesses were also being questioned.

Investigators also spoke to workers at Nablus’ Rafidiyah Hospital about Baba’s medical file, which disappeared after doctors performed an autopsy over the weekend, said Ibrahim Amr, the chief prosecutor in Nablus.

Baba’s death sparked a new debate over the human rights record of the Palestinian Authority.

``This issue has to be discussed frankly and clearly, without detours and evasions because there has been more than one victim of torture in the jails,″ said Ahmed Qureia, the speaker of the Palestinian legislative council.

``We have eight security services. This is creating a situation of anarchy,″ he told the Voice of Palestine radio station.

Saeb Erekat, minister of local affairs in Arafat’s Cabinet, said Baba’s death would top the agenda at the next Cabinet meeting. ``What happened is a very dangerous thing,″ he said.

U.S. diplomat Edward Abington, who serves as a liaison between Washington and the Arafat government, was unusually harsh in his criticism.

``Security is important, but cannot come on the cost of human rights. Too many Palestinians have died while in Palestinian custody,″ said Abington, who is the consul general in Jerusalem.

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