Palestinian activists cut a part of a fence.
(photo credit: REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman)
“Prisoner Day,” an annual commemoration of Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli
jails, who currently number 4,800, was held on Wednesday, with Israeli security
forces on standby for possible protests.
At least 3,000 prisoners
returned their breakfasts on Wednesday morning and Palestinian activists cut
through a fence around Ofer Prison in the West Bank, Israel Radio
Palestinian and Israeli officials are seeking a compromise to
end the hunger strike of a Palestinian prisoner whose on-and-off fast has lasted
more than 250 days and stoked weeks of street protests.
Samer Essawi, a
32-year-old from an Arab suburb of Jerusalem, is receiving some nutrients via an
intravenous drip but refusing food. His lawyer says his low heart rate means he
could die at any time.
Nine prisoners from the Democratic Front for the
Liberation of Palestine, the Leftist faction to which Essawi belongs, announced
on Wednesday an open-ended fast until he is freed.
Moved from jail to an
Israeli civilian hospital and under guard, an emaciated and bed-ridden Essawi
has been approached in recent days by Israeli negotiators. Both Palestinian and
Israeli officials hope to preempt the violence his death could
Israel has asked Essawi to stop his fast in exchange for
commuting his decades-long sentence to one year behind bars, a Palestinian
official said on Wednesday. Essawi said he would accept only if the year-long
term were backdated to the date of his arrest last July, according to Qadura
Fares, head of the Palestinian prisoner organization.
“We don’t want to
see this man commit suicide,” an Israeli official told Reuters. “There are
elements on the Palestinian side who are eager to exploit a
Palestinian officials have made an offer, not accepted by
Israel, that Essawi be immediately released to Ramallah to undergo a year of
medical treatment after which Israel would allow him to return to
Israel convicted Essawi of opening fire on an Israeli bus in
2002, but released him in 2011 along with more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners
in exchange for Israeli soldier Gilad Schalit.
He was re-arrested last
July after Israel said he violated the terms of his release by crossing from his
native east Jerusalem to the West Bank, and ordered him to stay in jail until
2029 – his original sentence.
UN and EU officials have expressed concern
to Israel over Essawi’s case. Israel has said it would be willing to deport
Essawi to an EU or UN member state. The idea has been rejected by Essawi
himself, and an Israeli official said neither the European Union nor the United
Nations had responded.