Vandalism, fasting mark Palestinian 'Prisoner Day'

Palestinian activists cut through fence of Ofer Prison in the West Bank; 3000 prisoners return their breakfast.

Palestinian activists cut a part of a fence (photo credit: REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman)
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 reported.
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 provoke.
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 tragedy.”
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 Jerusalem.
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.