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Palestinian prisoners declare day-long hunger fast
By ARIEL BEN SOLOMON
02/19/2013
International pressure mounts on Israel over Palestinian prisoner fasts, which have touched off violent protests in West Bank towns.
 
Around 800 Palestinian prisoners carried out a one-day hunger strike on Tuesday in solidarity with four prisoners who have refused food for an extended period of time, as clashes between Palestinians and Israeli security forces increased in intensity for a second day.

Palestinian protesters clashed with the IDF in the West Bank town of Huwara, as about 200 young Arabs threw rocks and fireworks at soldiers who fired back with tear gas and sound bombs, according to AP.

Activists claim that Palestinians also started a protest at the Red Cross office in Ramallah and then moved to the Ofer Prison in the West Bank, according to Al Jazeera.

The report also stated that 1,000 protesters rallied in Nablus and 1,500 in Hebron.

In the northern city of Nazareth, protest tents were erected as part of a rally.

Samer Essawi, 35, one of the hunger-striking prisoners, has refused food for more than 200 days. He was arrested by the IDF in Operation Defensive Shield during the second intifada in 2002, and according to the Prisons Service, sentenced to 26 years for terrorist activity. He was released as part of the Gilad Schalit prisoner swap deal, then rearrested in July 2012 for violating the conditions of his release, according to the IDF.

Essawi appeared before a Jerusalem civil court on Tuesday and was refused bail before his sentencing later this month.

In response to the protests, Balad MK Jamal Zahalka repeated his previous warning to The Jerusalem Post.

“I was just in Hebron yesterday, and people are very angry over this situation. If anything happens to the hunger-striking prisoners, it will cause even stronger protests in the West Bank and the Galilee.”

In regard to US President Barack Obama’s upcoming visit, Zahalka said, “it makes sense that Israel needs a quiet situation and not protests.”

But, he said, he had no idea if a solution to the situation would be found before his arrival.

If the four prisoners are not released, Zahalka said, the protests will escalate to “higher levels.” The Balad MK repeated claims made by others that Essawi’s health is in critical condition and that he is only drinking water.

Essawi was hospitalized over the weekend after he lost consciousness.

His condition improved after receiving an IV drip, his lawyers reportedly said.

Likud MK Danny Danon, responding to the increase in violence said, “We don’t fear the threats of terrorists and we must understand that we are talking about convicted terrorists who attacked Israel. And now they are trying to get VIP treatment and an early release due to their hunger strike,” he said.

“If we give in now, the message will be that we are weak and that we fold under pressure and they will return to these tactics in the future.”

Meanwhile, the Islamic Jihad group in Gaza said that its truce with Israel could end if any of the hunger strikers died.

In addition to Essawi, Ayman Sharawna, Jafar Ezzidin and Tareq Qaa’dan have been on a long-term hunger strike.

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said that he was in touch with Israel and that Egypt was trying to resolve the issue, in a similar manner to its negotiation of the settlement of protests in Israeli jails last year.

The French Foreign Ministry told Israel “to be sensitive to the risk of a tragic outcome and to take appropriate measures as a matter of urgency.”

UN Secretary-General Ban Kimoon released a statement on Tuesday saying he “is deeply concerned over the rapidly deteriorating condition of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli custody who are on hunger strike, in particular the critical health condition of one Palestinian detainee, Samer Essawi.”

Ban added that he has received letters from PA President Mahmoud Abbas as well as from Secretary-General of the Arab League Amr Moussa, and has discussed the matter with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.

Meanwhile, Israeli forces arrested Essawi’s brother at their family home in east Jerusalem.

The Egyptian paper Al-Masry al-Youm reported on Tuesday that Hamas leader Khaled Mashal said on Monday that Egypt was in contact with Israel regarding the Palestinian prisoners.

On Monday, Al-Quds al-Arabi reported that a spokesman for Hamas, Sami Abu Zuhri, threatened Israel for its violation of the Schalit prisoner exchange deal, blaming Israel for re-arresting prisoners released in the deal.

Earlier this month, the IDF responded to the Post’s request for comment on the case of Essawi and the reason for his re-arrest.

“The release of Samer Essawi stipulated that he would not commit any offense punishable by three months’ imprisonment or more, among other release conditions,” the IDF said in a statement. “During 2012, he was convicted, according to his confession, of violating a legal order and of coaching a witness. The court has not yet reached a verdict in his case.

“At the same time, the matter is pending before a committee that examines the violation of the terms of his release. The committee is empowered to order his return to prison in order to serve the remainder of his sentence,” the army said.

Reuters contributed to this report.
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