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Israel agrees to pay family of a Palestinian American who died after being detained

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Some other news now. Israel has agreed to pay the family of an elderly Palestinian American man who died in Israeli custody. This is a rare move by Israel, and it's not clear the family will accept. NPR's Daniel Estrin reports.

DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: Seventy-eight-year-old Omar As'ad was driving in his village this January when Israeli soldiers stopped him. The army says he wouldn't cooperate with an inspection, and so soldiers handcuffed, blindfolded and briefly gagged him. The army says soldiers thought he was asleep when they left him about half an hour later. Palestinian doctors found he died of a heart attack - their autopsy claimed came from mental stress. The army demoted two officers, and chief of staff Aviv Kochavi gave a speech.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

AVIV KOCHAVI: (Through interpreter) The way they left the person in the field is severe and unethical.

ESTRIN: The victim's family sued. Israel's defense ministry says the family agreed to drop the lawsuit and accept the equivalent of about $141,000. The family's lawyer won't comment, saying the case is sensitive. The victim's brother, Nawaff As'ad, says the family has not accepted Israel's offer and wants to see soldiers on trial.

NAWAFF AS'AD: We don't have no interest to accept any offer at this moment, no matter what the amount is, till we find justice for my brother.

ESTRIN: It's very rare for Israel to pay Palestinians compensation or damages. Israeli law exempts the army from liability when Palestinians are harmed in what's considered warfare activity. Ziv Stahl of Israeli human rights group Yesh Din thinks Israel agreed to pay because the victim was a U.S. citizen but doubts there will be real change.

ZIV STAHL: It was a good chance to actually look at the policy of randomly stopping a person in the middle of the night, tying him and his eyes, not checking to see if he's fine. My hopes will that maybe this will open a door for the army to actually look into the policy. But it never happened, and I'm sure it won't.

ESTRIN: After his death, the State Department said it wanted a thorough criminal investigation. The army concluded its criminal investigation in August but has not yet decided whether to indict any officers. Israel did admit responsibility for the cardiac arrest of this 78-year-old man but not for the death of 7-year-old Palestinian Rayan Suleiman. Last month, soldiers showed up at his doorstep, accusing his brothers of throwing stones. Palestinian health officials say the little boy also died of cardiac arrest - also, they say, out of fear.

Daniel Estrin, NPR News, Tel Aviv. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Daniel Estrin is NPR's international correspondent in Jerusalem.