Gazans allowed to visit kin held in Israel for first time in five years

RAMALLAH, West Bank -- Nearly 50 people from the Gaza Strip on Monday were allowed to visit relatives held in Israeli jails for the first time in more than five years.

Israel had barred Gazans from visiting prisoners after Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit was kidnapped in 2006 and held in Gaza. He was released last October in a prisoner exchange with Hamas, which controls the coastal strip, but the ban had continued.

Israel agreed to resume visitation rights for Gaza families after more than 1,600 Palestinian prisoners went on hunger strike in April demanding better prison conditions. One of their demands was to allow such visitations. The strike ended on May 14 with an agreement between the prisoners and the Israel Prisons Service.

The continued delay in starting family visits had caused prisoners to threaten to resume their hunger strike.

Israel allowed the first group of Gaza families into Israel to visit prisoners at Rimon Prison in the Negev desert on a trial basis. The International Committee of the Red Cross arranged the visits.

Abdul Nasser Ferwaneh, who heads a Gaza-based Palestinian prisoner’s advocacy group, said the family members selected for the trial visit gathered at the Red Cross office in Gaza City at 3 a.m. They were put on a bus and driven to Erez crossing into Israel.

The families were told not to bring children or anything for the prisoners. They were told not to bring food even for themselves to eat during a trip that started before dawn and that was going to take them to a prison some 140 miles away.

There are at least 475 prisoners from the Gaza Strip held in Israeli jails. Because the first family visits went without incident, Israel said it would allow another group of family members to visit 50 prisoners next week. The visits are scheduled to continue every week.


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Photo: A bus with relatives of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli prisons leaves Erez border after crossing into Israel on Monday to visit the prisoners for the first time in five years. Credit: David Buimovitch / Agence France-Presse / Getty Images.

Palestinian prisoner resumes hunger strike in Israel

Palestinian prisoner resumes hunger strike
RAMALLAH, West Bank –- A Palestinian inmate in an Israeli prison who had refused to eat for 71 days resumed his hunger strike Thursday, a prisoners' advocacy group said.

The Ramallah-based Addameer human rights group said Hasan Safadi, who has been held for a year under a procedure known as "administrative detention" that allows prisoners to be held indefinitely without charge or trial, had relaunched his hunger strike after his detention was renewed.

The group said he was immediately placed in solitary confinement in what it called "a blatant violation" of an agreement last month between the Israel Prison Service and 1,600 hunger-striking Palestinian prisoners.

A spokeswoman for the Israel Prison Service said she could not confirm the report, explaining that it takes a few days before it can be determined if a prisoner is actually on a hunger strike.

Under last month's deal, prisoners currently in administrative detention would either be formally charged or released at the end of their terms, which typically are about six months, both sides said at the time.

Safadi was arrested a year ago at his Nablus home and was immediately placed in administrative detention for six months, a term that was later renewed. He went on a hunger strike for 71 days demanding his release, but ended it after he received assurances that he would be released at the end of his second term.

Addameer accused the Israel Prison Service of not honoring the terms of its agreement with the prisoners because administrative detention has been renewed for about three dozen prisoners.

The IPS spokeswoman said it was made clear in the agreement that administrative detention would continue if there was justification.

Meanwhile, Mahmoud Sarsak, a member of the Palestinian national soccer team who has been held since 2009, ended his three-month hunger strike earlier this week after he was promised release July 10.


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Photo: Palestinian women chant slogans and hold pictures of Mahmoud Sarsak, who has been held by the Israelis since 2009, during a protest June 11 outside the International Committee of the Red Cross building in Gaza City. Credit: Hatem Moussa / Associated Press

Israeli court says no to release of striking Palestinian prisoners

RAMALLAH, West Bank -- Israel's Supreme Court has ruled against an appeal for release from two Palestinian prisoners who have been on a hunger strike for more than two months, their lawyer said Monday.

Bilal Diab and Thaer Halahleh, members of Islamic Jihad, began the hunger strike Feb. 28 to protest their administrative detention without charge or trial. Israel uses the policy of administrative detention, a remnant of the pre-1948 British mandate period, to keep Palestinians in prison on charges not known to the prisoners or their lawyers.

The pair's attorney, Jawad Boulus, said the court decided five days after hearing the appeal not to grant the two prisoners freedom.

The Israeli human rights group Physicians for Human Rights condemned the ruling, saying that because of the prisoners' long hunger strike the ruling “is the effective equivalent of handing down a death sentence.”

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Palestinians in Israeli jails begin third week of hunger strike

Hunger strike demonstration

RAMALLAH, West Bank -- Hundreds of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails on Tuesday entered their third week of a hunger strike to protest jail conditions and the practice of holding some suspects in administrative detention without charges or trial.

Two prisoners who have not eaten for 63 days are in life-threatening condition, and one of them was admitted to a hospital in central Israel. Eight others have been treated at prison clinics, according to a spokeswoman for the Israel Prison Services (IPS) and a Palestinian human rights group.

A total of 1,200 prisoners started an open hunger strike on April 17, Palestinian Prisoner Day, and were later joined by 400 others, according to the IPS spokeswoman.There are currently more than 4,500 Palestinian security prisoners, according to IPS figures, half of them members of the ruling Fatah movement and most of the others members of either Hamas or Islamic Jihad.

IPS director Aaron Franco met on Monday with representatives of the prisoners, including Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti, who is serving five life terms on terrorism-related convictions, during a tour of Hadarim Prison in central Israel.

The IPS spokeswoman denied the meeting was pre-arranged to discuss prisoners’ demands or that Franco had told Barghouti that an IPS answer to the demands will be ready in 10 days, as claimed by the Palestinian Authority Ministry of Prisoners.

The hunger strike comes after two other prisoners ended their own strikes over administrative detention after winning concessions from Israel.

Khader Adnan did not eat for 66 days before an Israeli court agreed that a four-month administrative sentence would not be renewed in return for ending the strike (Adnan was released on April 17), and Hana Shalabi, a West Bank resident, was sent into exile in the Gaza Strip on April 1 after fasting for 44 days.

The Ramallah-based human right-group Addameer on Tuesday expressed “utmost concern” for the lives of the striking prisoners, particularly Bilal Diab and Thaer Halahleh, who have not eaten for 63 days.

A doctor from Physicians for Human Rights-Israel who visited them Monday said they both are “at immediate risk of death” and should be transferred to a civilian hospital.

However, the IPS spokeswoman said that only Diab needed medical attention in a civilian hospital and was therefore transferred.The Israeli Supreme Court is due to hear appeals from the two prisoners concerning their administrative detention on Thursday.


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Photo: Israeli soldiers remove a burning tire during clashes with Palestinian protesters outside the Ofer military prison on Tuesday. Credit: Atef Safadi / EPA


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