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Australia launches probe into ‘Prisoner X’ suicide, demands answers from Israel

Published time: February 17, 2013 17:22
Edited time: February 18, 2013 01:47
The headstone of Ben Zygier is photographed in the Chevra Kadisha Jewish Cemetery, in Melbourne on February 14, 2013.(AFP Photo / Martin Philbey)

The headstone of Ben Zygier is photographed in the Chevra Kadisha Jewish Cemetery, in Melbourne on February 14, 2013.(AFP Photo / Martin Philbey)

Australia is seeking answers from Israel concerning the death of ‘Prisoner X,’ an Australian national who committed suicide in Israeli prison, Foreign Minister Bob Carr said as the ministry prepared to file a formal report on the case.

"We have asked the Israeli government for a contribution to that report," Carr told the press on Sunday. 

Australia wants to give Israel the opportunity to submit an explanation of the circumstances surrounding the prisoner's death, the minister said.

"I need to know what the contact was between Australian agencies and those of Israel, and I need to see what the Israelis want to tell Australia," he explained. "The key is to get all the information."

Australian foreign office chief Peter Varghese is preparing the report, which will "canvass all the consular contact between Australia and between Israel,” Carr said. Israeli authorities are reportedly also preparing to release their inquiry into the prisoner's death.

Meanwhile the Israeli parliament has called for an "intensive" investigation into the case.

“The intelligence subcommittee of the (Knesset) foreign affairs and defence committee decided to hold an intensive inquiry into all aspects of the affair of the prisoner found dead in his cell,” the committee spokesman Asaf Doron has announced.

The country’s Prime Minister has also spoke about the incident for the first time since it made scandalous headlines across the globe. Benjamin Netanyahu has called to safeguard the national interest of the nation when it comes to the inquiry and insisted that the security forces be allowed to "quietly" get on with their jobs.

“Overexposure of security and intelligence activities can damage, and damage badly, state security and that is why in every debate we must not underestimate the security interest,” the PM said, adding “in the reality in which Israel lives, it must be a central interest.”

The Australian-Israeli national known as ‘Prisoner X’ was identified by media earlier this week as 34-year-old Ben Zygier. In June 2010, the man committed suicide while being held in a high-security Tel Aviv prison.

The incident raised many questions, as well as speculation. Zygnier was reportedly in prison for 'grave crimes,' but there has been no official comment on the nature of those crimes. He was also rumored to be a Mossad agent.

Israeli officials claimed that Zygier was treated fairly while in prison. But Zygier's lawyer, Avigdor Feldman, said his client had been under intense emotional pressure while in custody, which could have led to his suicide.

"His interrogators told him he could expect lengthy jail time and be ostracized from his family and the Jewish community,”  Feldman told Israel’s Channel 10.

Australian authorities first asserted that they were absolutely unaware of the Zygier's case, but later admitted that months prior to his death they learned that Israel had detained an Australian-Israeli citizen on national security grounds.

An anonymous Israeli official told The Australian that Canberra knew about Zygier's case “long before” he died.

The Australian media also reported that the Israeli Security Agency informed Australian authorities immediately after Zygier's arrest in February 2010.