Rights group wants funds cut to Palestinian forces

The U.S. and the European Union should cut off funds to Palestinian security services in the West Bank until the Palestinians investigate accusations of abuse against protesters, a human rights group said.

Human Rights Watch said Wednesday that Palestinians demonstrating in support of Egypt's anti-government protest movement were assaulted on three occasions, most recently at a Feb. 5 rally.

There was no immediate comment from a Palestinian Authority spokesman.

The United States and European Union have poured millions of dollars into training Palestinian security forces in the West Bank, considering it a vital prerequisite for an independent Palestinian state. The Israeli army has praised the forces for maintaining law and order in West Bank cities once ridden with militant groups.

But the Palestinian Authority, which governs the West Bank, has "repeatedly responded to peaceful demonstrations with violent attacks, even as its security services enjoy impunity for systematic torture," said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.

"What further evidence could the U.S. and the EU possibly need that they should not hand over even more money to Palestinian security agencies until they are held accountable?" Whitson asked in a news release issued Wednesday.

Demonstrators at the Feb. 5 rally, in the West Bank city of Ramallah, chanted slogans in support of Egyptian protesters. They also called on Palestinian factions Fatah and Hamas, which control rival governments in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, to reconcile.

The rights group said plainclothes security officers at the rally groped female demonstrators and beat at least four protesters, dragging them to a police station.

One man said he was interrogated throughout the night and was denied food and drink for 14 hours, Human Rights Watch said. Another said security officials accused him of tearing down a poster of President Mahmoud Abbas, beat him and demanded his e-mail and Facebook account passwords.

Since January 2009, Palestinians have filed more than 360 allegations of torture against Palestinian security agencies with the official Palestinian ombudsman for human rights abuses, but no Palestinian Authority security official has been convicted of torture or other abuses, Human Rights Watch said.

The group also called on Abbas to order an independent investigation into claims that Palestinian interrogators tortured a Palestinian man to death last year.

Haitham Amer died while detained by interrogators in the West Bank city of Hebron. A Palestinian military court acquitted the five security officers accused in his death because of a lack of evidence, despite an autopsy report stating that he had died due to torture, Human Rights Watch said.