JERUSALEM (Reuters) - The Israeli military said on Friday that initial findings of an investigation into the death of a man that Palestinians say was severely beaten in custody showed that he may have died from inhaling teargas used to disperse attackers.
The Palestinian man died soon after a confrontation on Thursday with the Israeli troops in the occupied West Bank town of Jericho and the Palestinian Authority condemned it as a “cold-blooded execution”.
Israeli military police are probing the incident and a detailed report will be issued, possibly next week, a military spokeswoman said.
In security camera footage posted on social media and also carried by Israeli news sites, soldiers could be seen kicking and striking a man on the ground after detaining him. He was identified by Palestinian officials as Yassin Omar Al-Saradeeh.
The statement said that during the confrontation with some 50 Palestinians “who threw firebombs and rocks and rolled burning tyres” at the troops, they used “riot dispersal means adjacent to the area where the suspect was held, and it appears (he) was exposed to gas which may have caused his death.”
A post-mortem examination was being performed on the body at Israel’s National Institute of Forensic Medicine in Tel Aviv on Friday in the presence of a Palestinian doctor, a Palestinian official said.
The army said that an initial check by “an Israel Defence Forces medic declared his medical condition normal” but that it later deteriorated.
The military statement said troops had “used force in order to subdue the suspect” and that despite shots being fired towards him, “he was most likely not hit.” When asked, the spokeswoman declined to say what that the use of force entailed.
The military said on Thursday that the man was armed with an iron rod and ran towards the soldiers in an attempt to strike them. The troops, it said, were on a raid to arrest “suspects” in Jericho.
The Palestinian Information Ministry said about 20 soldiers had administered a “heavy beating” to Saradeeh, especially on his stomach and back.
Israeli troops frequently mount raids in the West Bank to detain suspected militants. Israel captured the territory in the 1967 Middle East war. Palestinians seek to establish a state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, with East Jerusalem as its capital.
An Israeli soldier, Elor Azaria, was sentenced last February to 18 months imprisonment for killing a wounded and incapacitated Palestinian assailant in the West Bank town of Hebron in 2015. He was convicted of manslaughter, a crime that carries a maximum sentence of 20 years.
His trial was one of the most divisive in Israeli history. Supporters argued he was justified in shooting a Palestinian they said had intended to kill Israelis. The military said he violated standing orders and that his conduct was unbecoming of an Israeli soldier.
Additional reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi; Writing by Ori Lewis; Editing by Peter Graff