JERUSALEM, NOV. 11 -- The Shin Bet internal security service was plunged into new controversy today with the disclosure that three agents have been suspended for allegedly trying to cover up the circumstances of the death in prison in July of a young Palestinian they were interrogating.
The agents allegedly lied to their superiors, who had been asked to submit a report on the death of Awad Hamdan, 23, to the special judicial commission of inquiry that investigated the agency's interrogation methods and issued its report two weeks ago. Hamdan, a resident of a village outside the West Bank town of Tulkarem, died at Jenin prison July 21, two days after he was arrested by agents who said he was a member of an unspecified, illegal Palestinian nationalist organization.
Israeli authorities first told Hamdan's family that he had died of a heart attack, then later said he might have suffered an allergic reaction to a snake or bug bite in his cell. But, according to the family's Israeli lawyer, Felicia Langer, relatives saw bruises and other marks below one of his eyes, around his kidneys and on his genitals.
Langer said she petitioned Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who oversees security in the occupied territories, Police Minister Haim Bar-Lev and Attorney General Yosef Harish, seeking an investigation and a copy of Hamdan's death certificate and autopsy report. She said she has received no reply.
She then petitioned Israel's High Court and the Shin Bet inquiry commission, headed by retired Supreme Court justice Moshe Landau, demanding an investigation.
The Landau commission was established in June to investigate the agency, which has been shaken by scandal since a 1984 incident when Shin Bet agents killed two captured Palestinian bus hijackers in the Gaza Strip and then attempted to cover up the causes of their deaths. Eleven Shin Bet agents, including former agency head Avraham Shalom, were pardoned for those crimes, but many of the service's senior officials resigned or were fired.
Controversy erupted again this year when the High Court freed an imprisoned Army lieutenant who said he had been framed by Shin Bet agents on treason charges. That incident led the Cabinet to establish the Landau commission.
After Langer petitioned the panel, it requested a report by the agency's head on Hamdan's death.
The agency submitted an account later found to contain "inaccuracies and even lies," according to informed Israeli sources, who confirmed a report on the incident published in the daily Yedioth Aharonoth.
They said a pathologist's report stated the probable cause of Hamdan's death was pneumonia, which they conceded might have been contracted following physical mistreatment during questioning.
Ten days ago the agency chief discovered that the three agents had lied, ordered their suspension and reported his action to the prime minister's office and to the attorney general, the sources said.
An official sympathetic to the agency said the quick action to punish those attempting a cover-up was proof that Shin Bet was determined to end abuses within its ranks.
But Langer, a longtime opponent of the agency, said the incident was one more example of "lies on lies." Hamdan, she said, "entered prison completely healthy and two days later he was dead.
"Someone saw other people were pardoned for killing so they understood it's not so terrible to do it again."
The incident casts doubt on some of the findings of the Landau commission, which reported that Shin Bet interrogators had routinely used unspecified "physical pressure" on Palestinian suspects over a 16-year period to extract confessions and then had lied under oath at the trials of the defendants to ensure their convictions.
The new disclosure calls into question the panel's findings that the organized system of perjury, which had the approval of Shin Bet's leaders, precluded lying to superiors and that the practices had ceased in June.
The Landau report generally has been hailed by Israeli leaders as putting an end to the Shin Bet crisis.
It recommended that no one be prosecuted for past perjury and even endorsed the use of "moderate physical pressure" against recalcitrant suspects in terrorism cases.Israeli Driver Shoots 2 Girls in Gaza Strip United Press International
JERUSALEM, Nov. 11 -- An Israeli driver whose car was pelted with stones hurled by protesters shot and wounded two Palestinian girls in the Israeli-occupied Gaza Strip today, military sources said.
The shootings, which Israeli Army Radio said sparked more rock throwing and disturbances in the Gaza Strip, came one day after a student was killed in a similar incident in Gaza. Security forces were called out to maintain order.
The driver, who was not identified, fired several shots near a girls' school at the entrance to the Gaza Strip at about 8 a.m. today, the sources said.
Two 14-year-old girls were found wounded in the area after the incident, the sources said, but they refused to provide further information, saying Gaza police were investigating.
The driver told authorities that he fired several shots into the air after his car was blocked by rocks in the road and residents began throwing stones, Army Radio reported.
Yesterday, Intisar Atar, a 17-year-old Palestinian girl, was killed, apparently by Israeli settlers who fired several shots when confronted by rock-throwing students in the Gaza town of Deir Balah.
Four Jewish residents of settlements in the Gaza Strip were being held in connection with the shooting.
Yesterday's slaying set off a demonstration at the Islamic Institute in Gaza City where students threw stones and set piles of tires on fire, the military said. Israeli soldiers dispersed the students.