Police question 19 guards in connection with fatal beating of Palestinian prisoner

Investigators probe ‘violent incident’ at Ketziot Prison last month; Palestinian ex-prisoners say they are witnesses; Ben Gvir says guards have ‘presumption of innocence’

Illustrative: The Ktziot Detention Camp on September 13, 2022. (Nati Shohat/FLASH90)
Illustrative: The Ktziot Detention Camp on September 13, 2022. (Nati Shohat/FLASH90)

Police revealed late Wednesday that 19 prison guards were questioned in connection to the fatal beating of a security prisoner last month.

A police statement said investigators questioned the guards over a suspected “violent incident” at a prison in southern Israel, and that the guards have since been conditionally released from custody.

According to Hebrew media reports, several of the officers were suspected of entering Tair Abu Asab’s cell at Ketziot Prison and beating him, hours before the Prison Service announced his death on November 19.

Abu Asab, 38, a member of the Fatah movement, had been jailed since 2005 on charges of attempted murder relating to a terror attack.

In the weeks after his death was announced, a number news outlets cited eyewitness reports from recently released Palestinian prisoners who claimed to have seen the fatal beating of Abu Asab by guards, with some saying there was a delay before he was seen by medical staff at the facility.

The prison service said at the time that the circumstances of his death were being investigated.

Hebrew media reported Thursday that while an autopsy was carried out at the time, the cause of death was not determined.

Shortly after the police statement was released overnight Wednesday, National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir, whose ministry oversees the prison service, voiced his support for the guards who had been questioned.

“I won’t conduct a field trial for the guards. They have the presumption of innocence and their fate should not be decided before a thorough probe has been carried out,” Ben Gvir, who heads the ultranationalist Otzma Yehudit party, said in a statement.

“We need to remember that our prison guards are dealing with the scum of the earth, murderers, who pose a security threat,” the far-right minister added. “I would suggest not defaming the guards.”

FILE – National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir attends a cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on February 5, 2023. (Alex Kolomoisky/POOL)

The former prisoners who said they witnessed the beating were released in late November as part of a weeklong truce between Israel and Hamas, which saw Hamas release 105 hostages in exchange for the release of 240 Palestinian security prisoners — all of whom were being held or were convicted of terror-related offenses but none of whom were convicted of murder.

The hostages were abducted from from Israel when some 3,000 Hamas terrorists stormed the border on October 7, killing some 1,200 people — mostly civilians.

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