Hamas Turns West Bank Funeral of Leading Cleric Into Protest Against Fatah

Thousands of angry Hamas loyalists yesterday marched at the West Bank funeral of an imam from the village of Kobar, who died in the custody of Palestinian Authority interrogators. The marchers accused the PA of killing the man and turned the ceremony into a rare show of defiance against President Mahmoud Abbas.

The demonstration was an unusual sight in the West Bank, where Abbas' PA has become increasingly autocratic since Hamas seized power in the Gaza Strip last June. Since then, police have cracked down on protests perceived to challenge Abbas' rule.

Some 3,000 Hamas loyalists crowded the village of Kobar, carrying the body of 44-year-old Majed Barghouti, who died in a lockup run by intelligence officials on Friday, a week after he was arrested. Hamas officials said they did not trust a government investigation announced by Abbas.

Mourners waved the green flags of the militant Muslim group as they carried Barghouti's body, boldly chanting in support of Hamas and its armed wing, the Qassam Brigades, a group banned in the West Bank.

At a separate nearby march for women, mourners wrapped green Hamas bandannas around their headscarves and loudly condemned Abbas' intelligence chief, Tawfik Tirawi, whom they blamed for Barghouti's death.

"Tirawi, you are a coward, you are the Americans' deputy," the women chanted. "We will crush your head, collaborator," they said.

Barghouti had an inflamed liver and a serious heart problem when he died, said Justice Minister Ali Khashan. He could not say if the man died because of mistreatment sustained in detention, but said individual cases of torture are dealt with swiftly. Khashan declined to discuss Barghouti's case because of the ongoing investigation.

Hamas spokesman Taher Nunu swiftly dismissed the investigation. He was tortured to death, Nunu told a news conference in Gaza. Nunu called on Palestinians to disobey any orders by Abbas' government to arrest Hamas loyalists.

Barghouti, a father of eight, was a mosque preacher in Kobar and spent several years in Israeli prisons. He was among hundreds of Hamas activists to be detained by Abbas' security forces in the West Bank following the violent Hamas takeover of Gaza. Dozens remain in custody.

Four men who were arrested alongside Barghouti told his family that they were all tied up in painful positions during interrogation, and that intelligence officers demanded to know where the detainees had hidden weapons.

Shawan Jabareen, head of the Palestinian human rights group Al Haq, said Palestinian security forces routinely beat Hamas loyalists, who are arrested on suspicion of owning weapons or membership in the militant group's armed wing.

Torture has become a phenomenon, Jabareen said. He said his group had documented some 120 cases of mistreatment in detention.

In a statement published in Palestinian newspapers, the intelligence service said Barghouti had complained of chest and abdominal pain and was examined by a hospital doctor two days before his death.