US urges investigation after elderly Palestinian-American found dead after arrest by Israel

US urges investigation after elderly Palestinian-American found dead after arrest by Israel
US State Department spokesperson Ned Price told reporters Washington 'support[s] a thorough investigation into the circumstances' of 80-year-old Omar Abdel Majid Asaad's death.
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The US' Ned Price addressed the 80-year-old Palestinian-American man's death with reporters [KEVIN LAMARQUE/POOL/AFP/Getty-archive]

An 80-year-old Palestinian-American man was found dead after being detained and handcuffed during an Israeli raid on a Palestinian village in the illegally occupied West Bank, Palestinian officials and relatives said on Wednesday.

The US State Department said that Omar Abdel Majid Asaad was a US citizen and that it had sought clarification from Israel over the incident. His body was found in Jiljilya in the early morning with a plastic zip-tie still around one wrist.

State Department spokesperson Ned Price told reporters: "We support a thorough investigation into the circumstances". He said the State Department had expressed its condolences to the family and offered to provide consular assistance.

Jiljilya village mayor Fouad Qattoum said Asaad was returning home after visiting relatives when Israeli soldiers stopped his car, bound him, blindfolded him and led him away to a building still under construction. Another villager said he saw Israeli soldiers walking Asaad away around 3am.

Asaad's body was found more than an hour later, according to vegetable seller Mamdouh Elaboud, who said he was himself detained for 20 minutes, then released.

"After the soldiers were gone, we noticed someone on the ground," Elaboud, 55, told Reuters. "He was lying face down on the ground and when we turned him over we found an elderly man with no sign of life."

The Israeli military said it had carried out an overnight operation in the village, and claimed a Palestinian was "apprehended after resisting a check". It said he was alive when the soldiers released him.

"The Military Police Criminal Investigation Division is reviewing the incident, at the end of which the findings will be transferred to the Military General Advocate Corps," it said in a statement.

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Asaad was a former Milwaukee, Wisconsin, resident who lived in the United States for decades and returned to the West Bank 10 years ago, his brother told Reuters.

Asaad's family delayed the funeral until Thursday to allow a postmortem. Islam Abu Zaher, a local doctor who said he had tried to resuscitate Asaad but found no pulse, said there were no obvious signs of injury and the cause of death was unclear.

"It is possible that he suffered a heart attack or some form of panic," Abu Zaher told Reuters, noting that As'ad had previously undergone open heart surgery and cardiac catheterisation. "We would need to perform an autopsy."

In a Facebook post, Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh blamed Israeli forces for the man's death and called it a crime.

Israeli military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Amnon Shefler said the military "will investigate this event in a thorough and professional manner, acting in line with our values and protocols."

The man's death comes after Israel's security stormed Palestine's Birzeit University, also located in the West Bank, on Monday. They arrested five students.

Israeli security and settler violence against Palestinians in the West Bank, which Israel has illegally occupied since 1967, is common.

Some 475,000 Israelis live in settlements in the West Bank regarded as illegal under international law, while the territory is home to more than 2.9 million Palestinians.

President Joe Biden's administration has returned to past US criticism of settlement building after former president Donald Trump offered unstinting support to the US ally.

(Reuters, AFP)