Palestinian labour minister resigns following activist’s death in custody

·3-min read

The labour minister in the Palestinian Authority resigned Sunday, a member of his party said, as security forces braced for further protests demanding president Mahmoud Abbas step down.

The decision comes after three days of heavy protests against the Palestinian Authority (PA), triggered by the violent arrest and death in custody of an activist.

Nizar Banat, a 43-year-old from Hebron known for social media videos denouncing alleged corruption within the PA, died on Thursday shortly after security forces stormed his house and violently arrested him, his family said.

New protests are slated for Sunday evening in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, in both Ramallah – the seat of the PA – and Banat's hometown of Hebron.

The left-wing Palestinian People's Party withdrew from the Fatah-led PA government due to it "its lack of respect for laws and public freedoms", said party member Issam Abu Bakr.

Nasri Abu Jaish, the labour minister and the People's Party representative in the government, has therefore resigned, said Abu Bakr.

Calls for Abbas to resign

On Saturday, hundreds took to the streets of Ramallah, the seat of the PA in the occupied West Bank, calling for Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas to quit.

Protester Ismat Mansour said the death of Banat was just "the tip of the iceberg" while accusing the PA of "a mountain of corruption" and demanding that elections be held.

Others held up placards directed at Abbas' PA that simply said "leave".

Security officers in riot gear blocked off streets.

An AFP photographer said protesters hurled rocks at security forces, who responded by launching a barrage of tear gas canisters to break up the crowds.

It was not immediately possible to confirm if there were any injuries following the protests on Saturday.

Banat had registered as a candidate in Palestinian parliamentary elections, which had been set for May until Abbas postponed them indefinitely.

Banat's family said the forces used pepper spray on him, beat him badly and dragged him away in a vehicle.

Samir Abu Zarzour, the doctor who carried out the autopsy, said injuries on Banat's body indicated he had been beaten on the head, chest, neck, legs and hands, with less than an hour elapsing between his arrest and his death.

Gatherings in Ramallah and Hebron

On Thursday, after news spread of his death, some 300 people gathered in Ramallah, as well as in Banat's hometown of Hebron.

On Friday, thousands of mourners attended his funeral in Hebron, with crowds there chanting angry slogans against the PA, as well as at the Al-Aqsa mosque compound, in Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem.

Banat's death also sparked condemnation from the United States, United Nations and European Union.

Palestinian prime minister Mohammad Shtayyeh said an investigation had been launched.

The PA exercises limited powers over some 40 percent of the West Bank, occupied by Israel since the Six-Day War of 1967.

Israel, which controls all access to the territory and coordinates with the PA, directly administers the remaining 60 percent.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

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