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Many of the complaints focus on agencies tasked with political security, whose personnel are recruited exclusively from Fatah supporters.
Presented with the findings, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who is also head of Fatah, issued a decree last week banning torture. But rights groups say vague laws and impunity for abuses linger.
Muhammad Jamil, head of the London-based Arab Organisation for Human Rights, called the forces’ crackdown a “systematic effort to silence differing political opinions, which undermines the cohesion of Palestinian society” and said Western countries funding and equipping them “bear a moral responsibility”.
The organisation surveyed 300 people jailed by the PA in political and security cases in the first half of 2012. Nearly a fifth said they had faced “cruel torture” during the period. Almost all said they had been tortured during previous jailings.
Hamas is similarly accused, by Fatah and rights groups, of widespread torture and political repression in the Gaza Strip.
The mistrust runs deep.
In one small town, a former officer of the PA’s preventative security forces explained how his agency keeps a lid on Hamas by paying a monthly stipend to some 40 “snitches” to monitor mosques, schools, university elections and even funerals.
His men make arrests at any sign of Hamas spreading ideas, gaining recruits or weapons, said the officer, a Fatah stalwart, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“The hell with their ‘resistance’ and their rockets that do no real damage to Israel - it’s just a show to get followers. They hate us because we arrest their people…but we know their weapons are meant for us, to take power,” the man told Reuters.