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Palestinian activist 'executed' by Israeli forces after 2-hour shoot-out

March 6, 2017 10:51 A.M. (Updated: March 6, 2017 10:33 P.M.)
31-year-old Basel al-Araj (Photo: Samidoun)
RAMALLAH (Ma’an) -- Israeli forces shot dead a Palestinian activist early Monday morning, culminating a two-hour-long gun battle in the Ramallah area of the central occupied West Bank, after Israeli forces had been pursuing the man since he was released from Palestinian prison last September.

The raid sparked clashes, which left two Palestinians shot and injured by Israeli forces. No Israelis were injured in the incident.

Israeli police identified the slain man as Basel al-Araj, who was wanted for "planning terror attacks against Israelis."

Al-Araj was detained without charges or explanation by Palestinian security forces in April last year along with Haitham Siyaj and Muhammad Harb. The controversial case made headlines when the three men joined three other detainees in a hunger strike in Palestinian prison, amid reports of torture and mistreatment.

After being released in September, Palestinian activists had feared that Israeli forces would immediately detain the six men, as the Palestinian Authority (PA) has been widely criticized for its security coordination with Israel through what critics have called a “revolving door policy" of funneling Palestinians from PA jails into Israeli prisons.

Muhammad Harb and Haitham Siyaj, along with two of the other hunger striking detainees Muhammad al-Salamin and Seif al-Idrissi, were eventually detained by Israeli forces and ordered to administrative detention, imprisonment without charge or trial, while a video was released by Israeli media showing Israeli forces beating Siyaj in custody.

However, Israeli forces were unable to immediately apprehend al-Araj, and the months-long manhunt continued until the Monday morning raid, when forces from the Israeli army, Israeli border police, Israeli intelligence, and Israel’s counter-terrorism unit surrounded a house in the outskirts of the refugee camp of Qaddura, where al-Araj was allegedly staying.

Israeli police spokesperson Luba al-Samri said that “once Israeli forces arrived at the place, the Palestinian terrorist opened fire at Israeli forces, causing an exchange of fire between Israeli forces and Palestinian terrorist, leading to his death.”

Al-Samri noted that no Israeli soldiers were injured in the shootout.

Eyewitnesses told Ma’an that gunfire was exchanged between Israeli forces and a Palestinian man for around two hours until he ran out of ammunition, after which Israeli forces raided the house and “executed” him by shooting him at close range with several bullets.

A video shared by Israeli police showed Israeli forces entering a home and firing heavily towards an overhead crawl space. It remained unclear whether the video showed the exact moment when al-Araj was shot and killed, and whether he first opened fire, as per Israeli claims.

Israeli forces also fired an Energa anti-tank rifle grenade into the building, causing the destruction of parts of the house, witnesses said.

Witnesses said they saw Israeli forces dragging a man's body by his feet outside of the house.

Meanwhile the Palestinian Ministry of Health has reportedly confirmed al-Araj's death, according to online media reports, while his body was taken by Israeli forces to an unknown destination.
Larges amounts of bullets fired at the scene.

Following the incident, clashes erupted between local Palestinians who started throwing rocks at Israeli soldiers who responded by opening fire, shooting and injuring two Palestinians, al-Samri confirmed.

The two, who remained unidentified, suffered gunshot wounds in the lower part of their bodies and were evacuated by Palestinian Red Crescent crews for treatment, she said.

Al-Araj, 31, was from the village of al-Walaja in the southern occupied West Bank district of Bethlehem. His home there has been raided “several times a week” by Israeli forces in recent months in their pursuit of him, according to locals.

According to Israeli police spokesperson Micky Rosenfeld, al-Araj “was the head of a terrorist cell that planned attacks against Israelis and security forces.”

At the time of his detention along with Harb and Siyaj last year, initial reports said the three would simply be questioned by PA security before being returned to their families.

However, PA police later revealed they had been found with weapons, hand grenades, and camping equipment, allegedly to be used in a future attack on Israel.

Shortly after their detention, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas told German newspaper Der Spiegel, “Our security forces are working very efficiently to prevent terror. Just a couple of days ago, three young men were tracked down and arrested. They were planning an attack. In this context, our security cooperation with Israel is functioning well.”

The PA has long been criticized for its security collaboration with Israel, criticism that took on a new significance after PA police beat a detainee to death last year, as Israel too has been the target of widespread international condemnation for extrajudicial killings of Palestinians since a wave of unrest swept across the Palestinian territory in October 2015.

According to Samidoun, al-Araj was a writer and activist, “involved in a wide array of Palestinian grassroots struggles for liberation.”

Samidoun's statement said the “extrajudicial execution” of al-Araj “highlights once again the devastating and deadly reality of ‘security coordination’ between the Israeli occupation and the Palestinian Authority for Palestinians struggling for their liberation, pursued and imprisoned through this coordination up to the point of their execution.”

“We demand real justice for Basel al-Araj, the prosecution and accountability of all those responsible for his execution, and the immediate release of his body, as well as his imprisoned comrades and all 7,000 Palestinian prisoners of freedom in the jails of the occupation,” the statement added.

In a lengthy statement release later on Monday, the leftist Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) described al-Araj as a freedom fighter, intellectual, and theorist, who was “one of the most prominent young Palestinian strugglers” to resist the Israeli occupation who “worked to chronicle the history of Palestine and confront all attempts to liquidate the Palestinian cause.”

The group said the killing laid bare “an urgent need to confront all forms of security coordination, political arrests, and prosecutions” by the PA, describing security coordination with Israel as “a betrayal” of the principles and values of Palestinian resistance.

“Loyalty to the martyr Basel al-Araj requires an end to the Oslo Accords, against which the martyr always struggled, and the formation of a new national strategy to confront the current challenges and unite the energies of the Palestinian people in the Intifada and resistance.”

A spokesperson for Fatah, the ruling party in the PA, also condemned the killing and the injury of "the two who tried to face and prevent the raid," without identifying the slain man as al-Araj.

Fatah spokesperson Ziyad Khalil Abu Zayyad called the incident "another escalation (by Israel) against Palestinians," and also highlighted that Israeli forces detained 12 Palestinians overnight Sunday "without any justification."

Abu Zayyad denounced the "illegal" Israeli operation, describing it as a "hideous act of the occupation," and noted that pictures taken at the scene showed a large amount bullets fired by Israeli forces in the "execution."

Abu Zayyad called upon Palestinian youth "to be careful," and warned against Israeli forces who seek to "detain and kill" Palestinians during nightly raids across the occupied West Bank, which are carried out mainly in villages and refugee camps located in Area A which should be under full PA control according to the Oslo agreements.
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