Abbas warns Israel over hunger strikers

"The case of [hunger striking] prisoners is not only a political issue, rather it is a humanitarian issue," PA president says.

May 11, 2012 00:44
3 minute read.
PA President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah

PA President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah 370 (R). (photo credit: REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman)


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The Palestinian Authority will not remain silent if any of the hunger striking Palestinian prisoners are harmed, President Mahmoud Abbas warned on Thursday.

Abbas’s warning came during a visit he paid to a tent set up in El-Bireh, next to Ramallah, by families of Palestinian prisoners in solidarity with their sons.

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“The case of the prisoners is not only a political issue,” Abbas told the families.

“Rather, it is a humanitarian issue. The prisoners are demanding humanitarian treatment.”

Abbas said that there would be no solution to the conflict unless Israel released all Palestinian prisoners. “Even if we agree on all the sticking issues, the case of the prisoners will remain the first and that’s why it is always on our agenda,” he said.

He also urged the United Nations to do more on behalf of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails who are on a hunger strike.

He made his plea to Robert Serry, the UN special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, when the two men met in Ramallah to discuss the stalled peace process and other Palestinian issues, including the striking prisoners.

Abbas’s office said that the meeting with Serry focused on the hunger strike.

Some 1,600 prisoners in Israeli jails began a hunger strike on April 17, to protest the conditions under which they are held, which were harshened during the time that soldier Gilad Schalit was held in captivity in Gaza.

Additionally, eight Palestinians held under administrative detention have been on a more prolonged hunger strike, on which two – Bilal Diab, 27, and Thaer Halahleh, 34 – have reached their 73rd day.

In his conversation with Serry, Abbas urged the UN to make more efforts to save the lives of the hunger-striking prisoners, a spokesman for Abbas said after the meeting.

Serry told Abbas that he was concerned about the situation and that it needed to be urgently resolved.

He is one of a number of UN officials who have spoken out in support of the hunger strikers, most specifically about those in administrative detention.

Filippo Grandi, commissioner- general of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees, called on Israel to bring them to trial or set them free. He added that he believed that Diab and Halahleh are in danger of death. UN Secretary- General Ban Ki-moon issued a similar call on Wednesday.

On Thursday morning, Palestinian activists blocked a UN building in Ramallah. They held up signs that said, “Unfair, unjust.” They chanted, “UN Judaized.”

A protest near Ofer Prison, on the outskirts of Ramallah, turned violent as activists clashed with IDF soldiers and border police. Three Palestinians and one international activist were injured.

Earlier this week, the High Court of Justice rejected a petition by Diab and Halahleh to be released. It said it believed both men were a security risk and that a hunger strike was not a factor in assessing the detention.

Physicians for Human Rights- Israel sent a letter to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, the Israel Medical Association, the Prisons Service and Assaf Harofeh Medical Center, asking that those prisoners striking for more than 40 days be transferred from the Prisons Service Medical Center to a civilian hospital.

An Israeli official said that every effort was being made to end the hunger strike. The official added that prisoners, particularly those jailed for violent acts against Israelis, could not be released because of the strike.

This is an effort by the Islamic Jihad and Hamas to free their members, he said.

Israel’s treatment of its prisoners is in compliance with international law, norms and conventions, the official added.

The prisoners’ requests go far beyond what is required under international law, he said.

The official added that administrative detention was legal under international law and that other Western democracies use this procedure.

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