Violence Breaks out in Gaza Strip After Death of Imprisoned Activist

Violence in the Gaza Strip reached a new peak over the weekend, when one man was killed and at least 250 Palestinians were wounded in clashes with Israeli security forces.

The riots erupted following a report that a Palestinian from the Gaza Strip who had been arrested two weeks earlier committed suicide while in detention.

Family and friends of Attiya Za’anin, 36, refused to accept the Israeli account of his death, claiming he had been tortured to death.

Za’anin, a farmer from the village of Beit Hanun arrested on suspicion of being a member of the Al Fatah wing of the Palestine Liberation Organization, reportedly was found hanged to death in his prison cell.

A prison spokesperson said Za’anin, whose body was found Friday night, made a rope from his blanket and hanged himself. The prison service claimed a military doctor tried but failed to revive him.

The dead man’s family has called for a report by an independent pathologist on the cause of death.

Za’anin, a father of seven, allegedly was a key Fatah activist in the Gaza Strip who had served long prison sentences in the past for underground activity.

Since the intifada began in December 1987, he was arrested twice and placed in administrative detention. Two weeks ago, he was brought to the interrogation section of the Gaza prison.

The riots following his death began Saturday in his village of Beit Hanun and from there spread throughout the Gaza Strip. On Sunday, the violence had reached the southern part of the strip, particularly the towns of Rafah and Deir el-Balah, as well as the city of Gaza in the north.

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Angry youths threw stones, bottles and pieces of metal at Israel Defense Force troops, who responded with tear gas, gravel-spraying machines and live fire. Four firebombs were hurled at army patrols, but no Israelis were hurt.

A 19-year-old man was fatally shot in the back of the head.

A curfew was clamped on several tense refugee camps and neighborhoods.

Defense Minister Moshe Arens visited the Gaza Strip on Sunday, an indication of the gravity of the situation.

A senior officer explained that the army was trying to hit at the “hard core” of the intifada. He said that despite the large number of injured, the army was reacting in a “restrained fashion.”

He said that under different circumstances, riots of the kind that took place Saturday would have elicited a much higher toll of people hurt.

Several factors in addition to Za’anin’s death have contributed to the tension in the area. Palestinians are still angry at killing last month of at least 17 Arabs by Israeli police on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.

But tempers have been fueled by the growing trend of dismissing Palestinian workers from their jobs in Israel and replacing them with Jewish workers.

In any case, November is usually a tense month in the administered territories. Palestinians observe as days of mourning Nov. 2, the anniversary of the Balfour Declaration supporting a Jewish home in Palestine, and Nov. 29, the anniversary of the U.N. resolution on the partition of Palestine. Their observances are usually accompanied by increased violence.

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