Palestinian prisoner dies of cancer, sparks unrest

Hamas member sentenced to life in prison in Israel for attempted murder, dies in hospital; Abbas blames Israeli negligence.

Palestinian prisoners in Israel's Ketziot prison 311 (R) (photo credit: Ronen Zvulun/Reuters)
Palestinian prisoners in Israel's Ketziot prison 311 (R)
(photo credit: Ronen Zvulun/Reuters)
The Palestinian Authority held Israel fully responsible for the death of prisoner Maissara Abu Hamdiyeh, 63, on Tuesday of esophageal cancer, claiming the inmate had died as a result of medical negligence.
Violence immediately erupted in the West Bank, east Jerusalem and in Israeli prisons on Tuesday over his death.
More violence is expected to break out at his funeral in Hebron on Wednesday, although there is some possibility that the funeral will be delayed until Thursday.
“Today, we were surprised to hear about the martyrdom of prisoner Abu Hamdiyeh,” PA President Mahmoud Abbas told Fatah leaders in Ramallah. “In the past, we tried to work to get him released from prison so that he could receive proper medical treatment, but the Israeli government refused to comply with our efforts.”
Abu Hamdiyeh, who was a Hamas member, was given a life sentence by Israel in 2002 on charges of attempted murder, membership in a banned organization and illegal possession of firearms as a result of his role in the thwarted bombing of the restaurant Caffit in Jerusalem’s German Colony.
Palestinian activists immediately claimed him as a hero and a martyr, even though he died from esophageal cancer in Soroka University Medical Center in Beersheba.
His death comes amidst attempts to fan Palestinian violence in the West Bank, particularly around the prisoner issue. The death of Palestinian prisoner Arafat Jaradat, 30, from a heart attack in the Megiddo Prison in February also sparked violent protests across the West Bank.
The Prime Minister’s Office charged the Palestinian Authority with seeking to use Hamdiyeh’s death to foment confrontation.
“Unfortunately the Palestinian Authority is seeking to take advantage of the prisoner Hamdiyeh’s death in order to escalate the situation,” Ofer Gendelman, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s spokesman to the Arabic press, wrote on his Twitter account.
Accusing the PA of “hypocrisy,”Gendelman said that while “Palestinian convicts in Israeli jails get top medical treatment and visits from the Red Cross, those who serve time in PA prisons get nothing.”
Israel’s Prisons Service said in response that it had done everything it could for Hamdiyeh since his diagnosis in February.
The Prisons Service district commander in the south, Gondar Nasim Sabiti, told Channel 2 that it had transferred him to the hospital and worked to grant him an early release due to his terminal cancer, including turning to the release board.
“The board held one discussion on the matter and was supposed to hold another one this week,” he said. But he added that to his sorrow, the process was not completed.
The Prisons Service said that after news of Hamdiyeh’s death on Tuesday made its way to the security prisoners, a number of them began slamming on their cell doors and throwing trash in a number of security blocks at prisons across the country.
At Ramon Prison in southern Israel, inmates threw objects at guards, who responded with tear gas, the Prisons Service spokeswoman said.
Three prisoners and six guards were treated at the jail for tear gas inhalation, she said.
According to Palestinian activists, the prisoners in Israeli jails declared a threeday hunger strike in protest.
Outside of the prisons, Palestinians reported that at least 24 people were injured during clashes with IDF soldiers in Hebron.
The IDF said that stones and 15 Molotov cocktails were thrown at security forces by 150 Palestinian rioters.
Israel Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said that in the late afternoon a group of around 50 Israeli Arabs held an illegal demonstration outside Nablus Gate in east Jerusalem, calling for the release of security prisoners in Israeli jails.
Rosenfeld said the protesters threw rocks and bottles at police, who dispersed them within minutes using stun grenades.
Nine protesters were arrested and no injuries were reported of police or protesters, he added. In Ramallah, protesters carried photos of Hamdiyeh, as they marched from the center of Ramallah toward Abbas’s office, but were blocked by PA policemen, eyewitnesses said.
Hamas’s armed wing, Izaddin Kassam, revealed Tuesday that Hamdiyeh was one of its top members.
“Abu Hamdiyeh was one of the heroes of Kassam,” the group said in a statement. “He was one of the unknown soldiers who joined and trained our fighters since 1989. He worked quietly to supply our fighters with weapons and explosives.”
On Tuesday, MK Miri Regev (Likud), the head of the Knesset’s Internal Affairs and Environment Committee, met with the head of Prisons Service Lt.-Gen. Aharon Franco, who told her that the organization will hold an investigation into Hamdiyeh’s death.
PA Minister for Prisoners Affairs Issa Qaraqi said, “We don’t trust an Israeli autopsy,” Qaraqi said. “We will conduct our own autopsy in the presence of foreign experts.”
In Ramallah, Abbas told Fatah leaders that Abu Hamdiyeh’s death was a sign of “Israeli intransigence and arrogance... especially against the prisoners in its prisons.”
He said the PA has protested to the Israeli government and various international organizations over the death of Abu Hamdiyeh.
“We will continue our efforts to liberate the homeland and the prisoners,” he added.
Abbas’s spokesman, Nabil Abu Rudaineh said, “We have been warning against this for a long time. The continued incarceration of the prisoners and medical negligence lead to grave repercussions.”
He called for the release of all prisoners from Israeli jails.
An Israeli official in the Prime Minister’s Office said that by blaming Israel for someone’s cancer-related death, elements inside the PA “appear to be wanting to speak the language of confrontation, not reconciliation.”
This was especially troubling, the official said, coming so soon after US President Barack Obama’s visit to the region, and as US Secretary of State John Kerry is looking for ways to restart Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.
“I don’t understand what a confrontation with Israel gets them,” he said. “I think it is a strategic mistake in terms of being able to deliver things to the Palestinian people.”
“Sometimes I think they are on autopilot,” the official added of the PA leadership.
“Whatever happens is Israel’s fault. It is not constructive, it is ‘old think,’ it is point scoring.”
Tovah Lazaroff and Reuters contributed to this report.