JERUSALEM – An elderly Palestinian American was found dead early Wednesday morning shortly after Israeli forces briefly detained a village in the occupied West Bank, prompting the US government to call for an investigation into his death.
The Palestinian Health Ministry said in a statement that the man, whom US and Palestinian officials said was named Omar al-Assad, died of a heart attack after he was arrested during a night-time raid on the Palestinian village of Giljilia near the city of Ramallah. The ministry said he was 80 years old.
The Israeli army said in a statement that a Palestinian man in Gillia “was arrested after he resisted a check” during an Israeli raid, before he was later released alive. The statement added that the Israeli military police are investigating the incident.
According to the head of the village council, in an interview published on Wafa, the main Palestinian news outlet, Mr. Assad was driving to his home after visiting relatives when he was stopped by Israeli soldiers, pulled out of his car, blindfolded, handcuffed and taken to his home. A construction site with four other villagers.
After the soldiers left the area, Mr. Assad was found dead at the construction site around 4:30 a.m., the head of the council, Fouad Moti, told Wafa.
Almost the entire village is under the administration of the Palestinian Authority, in accordance with diplomatic agreements made in the 1990s, known as the Oslo Accords. But Israeli forces regularly enter the Palestinian Authority’s autonomous areas, such as Gillia, in order to carry out arrests or sometimes for exercises.
State Department spokesman Ned Price said on Wednesday that the United States had requested clarification from Israel about the incident. “We support a thorough investigation into the circumstances of this incident,” Price told a news briefing.
His family told Reuters that Mr. Assad had been living in Milwaukee for decades before returning to the West Bank about 10 years ago.
He is at least the second Palestinian in 2022 to die in the West Bank in an incident related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Another Palestinian man, Bakr Hashash, was killed during an exchange of fire with Israeli soldiers in Balata, in the northern West Bank, on January 6.
At least 79 Palestinians were killed in 2021 by Israeli soldiers or settlers in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, according to records compiled by the United Nations. Palestinians have killed three Israelis there, most recently in December when 25-year-old Israeli settler Yehuda Dementman was shot dead in an ambush in the northern West Bank.
Israel occupied the West Bank in 1967, after seizing it from Jordan. Violence in the West Bank reached a five-year peak in 2021, according to United Nations data, as the prospect of a peace deal between Israelis and Palestinians is more remote than ever, seven years after the last peace negotiations stalled in 2014.
The current Israeli government, led by Naftali Bennett, a former settler leader who opposes Palestinian statehood, has ruled out a return to formal peace talks during its tenure.
The Palestinian leadership is divided between the secular Palestinian Authority, which administers parts of the West Bank, and Hamas, the armed Islamist movement, which administers the Gaza Strip.
Lara Jax contributed reporting from Washington.