Palestinians say Israel using Schalit as a distraction

Palestinian Prisoner Affairs Ministry says that Israel attempted to distract international community from prisoners' hunger strike.

Gilad Schalit 311 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Gilad Schalit 311
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The Palestinian Prisoners Affairs Ministry said that a “surprising” visit by a German mediator to Cairo for talks over the release of kidnapped IDF soldier Gilad Schalit was meant to distract the international community from the hunger strike being staged by Palestinian prisoners in Israeli prisons.
Palestinian Prisoners Affairs Ministry spokesperson Riad al-Ashkar said that there have been no developments in the prisoner-swap deal for Schalit, and that the current visit by a German mediator only undermines the process.
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Hundreds of Palestinians in Israeli jails have joined a hunger strike to protest against deteriorating prison conditions. The strike was called after Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu toughened restrictions on Palestinian prisoners as part of an effort to force Hamas to free kidnapped IDF soldier Gilad Schalit.
Prisoners Affairs Minister Issa Qaraqea told Reuters that some 500 prisoners in Israeli jails were refusing to eat, rapidly swelling the ranks of the protest that began last week.
Sivan Weizman, a spokeswoman for the Prisons Service, said only 160 prisoners were on a hunger strike and that some of them stopped eating six days ago.
“They are all under medical supervision and none is in danger,” she said, adding that they were all drinking water.
Around 6,000 Palestinians are detained in Israeli prisons, according to Qaraqea, who said that most of those not on the open-ended strike were nonetheless shunning food for three days every week in solidarity with the others.
Thousands of Palestinians staged rallies in both the Gaza Strip and the West Bank on Monday to voice their support for the protest.
“Freedom can only be complete when the homeland is liberated and prisoners are released,” chanted protesters in Ramallah.
Rights groups said the clampdown included preventing access to books, educational programs and new clothes, expanding solitary confinement, cutting back on family visits and forcing detainees to meet their lawyers with their hands cuffed.
A senior Hamas official warned on Monday that rather than bow to Israeli pressure, militants would abduct more Israeli soldiers to push their demand for a mass release of Palestinian inmates.
“More of Schalit’s kind are coming,” Hamas lawmaker Ismail Al-Ashqar said in Gaza, adding that the “effort to kidnap soldiers will continue until prisoners are freed.”
“The policy of kidnapping soldiers and settlers will continue until the release of our brave prisoners,” Ashqar said during a solidarity rally for Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails at the International Red Cross headquarters in the Gaza Strip.