The Palestinian Authority responded to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s appeal to calm down the situation in the West Bank on Sunday following Arafat Jaradat’s death in prison by announcing instead that the security prisoner was brutally tortured.

PA Minister for Prisoners’ Affairs Issa Qaraqi claimed that Jaradat had been subjected to severe torture. An autopsy performed on Jaradat’s body “proved that he had been severely tortured” while in detention, Qaraqi told reporters in Ramallah.

The autopsy did not provide any evidence that Jaradat had died of a heart attack, as Israel maintained, Qaraqi said. The claim of a heart attack was a “lie” and he held Israel fully responsible for “this cruel crime,” he said.

Israel, he added, “must be held fully accountable for this war crime.”

Qaraqi reiterated his call for the establishment of an independent commission of inquiry to investigate Jaradat’s death.

PA Central Committee member Jibril Rajoub told Channel 2 that he held Israel responsible for Jaradat’s death. The current riots were not a third intifada but were a protest that underlined the importance and sensitivity of the prisoner issue to the Palestinians, Rajoub added.

However, Israel says no signs of violence were shown in Jaradat’s autopsy. Israel Radio reported that the results of the investigation into the cause of his death at Megiddo Prison on Saturday were inconclusive.

The Health Ministry said the injuries found in the autopsy could have been caused by the medical emergency team’s efforts to resuscitate Jaradat.

It listed bruising on his shoulder, chest and elbows, as well as fractures in two of his right ribs.

“These initial findings are not enough to determine the cause of death,” the ministry said.

As the violence spread following Jaradat’s death, Netanyahu sent a message to the PA leadership through Yitzhak Molcho, his envoy to the Palestinians, saying that Israel expected the PA to “keep the peace and quiet, maintain law and order, and prevent violence.”

A government official said the operating assumptions behind the message were twofold: that the PA had the ability to control the violence, and certain elements inside the PA had been responsible for the recent wave of riots.

“If some Palestinians believe that you can have a low level of violence and expect it to remain static, then they are playing with fire,” the official said. “Once you go down the path of violence, you don’t know where it will end. They could be riding a tiger.”

Netanyahu was closely monitoring the situation, and was being constantly briefed about the situation on the ground, the official said.

To deprive the PA of an excuse for not taking action to tamp down the tension, the prime minister said he would release the NIS 400 million in January tax revenue that Israel collects for the PA, and that the February revenue would also be transferred, the official said.

This decision was made to “put the ball in their court” so they could not use a failure to be able to pay salaries to security officials as the reason for not clamping down on the violence, the official said.

Israel held up the transfer of funds following the PA’s successful bid for an upgrade at the UN General Assembly in November. In late January, Netanyahu announced that Israel would transfer December’s revenues on a “one-time basis” because of economic hardships facing the PA.

The official dismissed the idea that Israel – in an attempt to keep Jaradat’s death or the condition of four hunger-striking Palestinian prisoners from being a further catalyst for West Bank violence – might release prisoners in advance of US President Barack Obama’s visit next month as a confidence-building measure.

“Reports last week that prisoner releases would be part of confidencebuilding measures to the Palestinians were not true,” the official said.

“It is hard to talk about confidencebuilding measures when they are walking up the hill of violence.”

The official declined to address speculation that the riots were timed now, less than a month before Obama’s scheduled March 20 visit, to put the Palestinian issue at the top of the US president’s agenda at a time when it has been overshadowed by Iran’s nuclear program and the situation in Syria.

Qaraqi meanwhile called on the PA leadership to take a quick decision “to join the Third and Fourth Geneva Convention” in response to the death of the Palestinian inmate.

He said that such a move would allow the Palestinians to seek protection of the international community for Palestinian prisoners held in Israel.

Kamil Sabbagh, a lawyer for the PA Ministry for Prisoners’ Affairs, said he last saw Jaradat in court on February 21. “He was complaining of severe pain in the back and appeared exhausted,” Sabbagh said. He claimed that Jaradat told him that he had been beaten during interrogation.

On Sunday, Jaradat’s body was handed over to his family in Sa’ir, near Hebron, where he is expected to be buried on Monday.

Ahmed Qurei, a former PA prime minister, warned that the violence could erupt into a third intifada. He accused Israel of “assassinating” Jaradat and endangering the lives of other Palestinian prisoners, especially those who had been on hunger strike for several weeks.

Qurei also warned that Israel was preparing to perpetrate a “big crime” against the Aksa Mosque and Muslim worshipers in Jerusalem.

Ever since the 1929 Arab riots, when Jews set up a mehitza (separation between men and women) at the Western Wall for prayers, the Arabs have consistently used the claim – often with the intent of inciting violence and whipping up a frenzy – that the Jews were on the verge of destroying or damaging the Aksa Mosque.

Jaradat’s death triggered fresh protests in the West Bank, with hundreds of Palestinians taking to the streets and clashing with IDF soldiers.

Clashes were reported in Hebron, Ramallah and Bethlehem, Palestinian sources said. At least 36 Palestinians were wounded during confrontations with soldiers, the sources added.

Some 200 Palestinians threw rocks and Molotov cocktails and burned tires in the Hassam Hashoter area of Hebron on Sunday, according to an IDF spokeswoman. Security forces responded with riot dispersal means, she said, adding that a rock-thrower lightly wounded a soldier.

In Beit Umar, south of Bethlehem, around 100 Palestinians threw rocks, wounding one soldier lightly.

A group of 50 Palestinians threw rocks and improvised bombs at solders at Rachel’s Tomb just north of Bethlehem. There were no injuries in that incident, the spokeswoman said.

The worst violence occurred near Ofer Prison on the outskirts of Ramallah, where 26 Palestinians were reportedly injured, two of them by live ammunition. Palestinians said the 15-year-old son of Ziad Hab al-Reeh, commander of the PA’s Preventive Security Force in the West Bank, was among the wounded.

The IDF said it was examining this claim.

Yaakov Lappin contributed to this report.