The US State Department on Friday reportedly sent a letter to the Israeli military, demanding to know why the army’s probe into the death of a 78-year-old Palestinian-American following his arrest by IDF troops was still ongoing.
Omar As’ad, a Palestinian retiree, was found dead with a zip-tie around one of his hands and a blindfold over his eyes shortly after troops finished a routine patrol in the central West Bank village of Jiljilya earlier this month.
The State Department letter included other tough questions about the handling of the January 12 incident that has made international headlines and sparked an outcry from US lawmakers.
The Israel Defense Forces said in response to the letter that an accelerated probe into the matter was underway in the Military Police Investigative Unit, which views what happened with great severity, according to the Kan public broadcaster.
IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi ordered the findings of the investigation be on his desk in the coming days.
Asked for an update on the US response to As’ad’s death at a Thursday press briefing, State Department Spokesman Ned Price said, “We have not yet seen a final report from the Israeli government. We took note of the disturbing media reports regarding the circumstances of his death and we continue to support a thorough investigation into those circumstances, and we welcome receiving additional information as soon as possible.”
Price added that a US diplomat had been in attendance at the wake for As’ad.
On Wednesday, the Palestinian Authority released its official autopsy report, which found that As’ad likely perished from a stress-induced heart attack caused by the circumstances of his detention by Israeli soldiers.
A team of Palestinian doctors commissioned by Ramallah’s public prosecutor wrote that As’ad’s death was caused by “stress-induced cardiac arrest due to external injuries.” The autopsy listed several such injuries, including “bruises and abrasions” caused by the elderly As’ad having been bound and blindfolded.
As’ad was detained by Israeli soldiers as he drove through his hometown at 3 a.m. on a frigid January night. According to the army, he “resisted a security check.” As’ad had previously undergone open-heart surgery and was in poor health, according to his family.
Soldiers tied As’ad’s hands and blindfolded him, according to a Palestinian witness. An hour later, after Israeli troops had left the scene, he was found dead of a heart attack in a half-constructed building.
As’ad was detained along with four other Palestinians from a nearby town, who claim that the soldiers saw that As’ad was unresponsive but left anyway, without providing him with medical care. The military says he was released before he died.
The IDF said it was carrying out an arrest raid in the central West Bank town aimed at “thwarting terror activity.”
Jacob Magid and Aaron Boxerman contributed to this report