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West Bank protesters rally for release of deteriorating prisoners (PHOTOS)

Published time: February 19, 2013 08:52
Edited time: February 19, 2013 15:08
Palestinians throw stones towards Israeli troops during clashes that broke out after a rally in the West Bank city of Hebron to show solidarity with prisoners on hunger strike in Israeli jails February 18, 2013. (Reuters / Ammar Awad)

Palestinians throw stones towards Israeli troops during clashes that broke out after a rally in the West Bank city of Hebron to show solidarity with prisoners on hunger strike in Israeli jails February 18, 2013. (Reuters / Ammar Awad)

Thousands demonstrated in Palestine’s two largest cities in support of hunger strikers in Israeli jails. Protesters called on the EU to take action to demand better treatment of the weakening prisoners and back their release.

­More than 1,000 people rioted in the West Bank’s two largest cities on Monday to collectively demonstrate their support for the four long-term hunger strikers imprisoned in Israel’s jails. Public anger has heightened over the uncertainty of the prisoners’ fates, and people took to the streets to both show their support and demand that the international community step in.

The protests flared in both Nablus in the north and Hebron in the south, prompting clashes with the army. Over 1,000 people gathered in Nablus, with a further 1,500 demonstrating in central Hebron. Palestinian youths also blocked the entrance to the UN offices in Ramallah, 10km north of Jerusalem. However, Palestinian police prevented them from entering the building, according to AFP correspondents.

A Palestinian gestures towards police trying to disperse stone-throwers during clashes with Israeli troops that broke out after a rally in the West Bank city of Hebron to show solidarity with prisoners on hunger strike in Israeli jails February 18, 2013. (Reuters / Ammar Awad)
A Palestinian gestures towards police trying to disperse stone-throwers during clashes with Israeli troops that broke out after a rally in the West Bank city of Hebron to show solidarity with prisoners on hunger strike in Israeli jails February 18, 2013. (Reuters / Ammar Awad)

­Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erkat sent an impassioned letter on Monday, to the EU’s foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, requesting that she take moves to ensure the liberty of the hunger strikers is both enforced and overseen.

“We believe it is no longer acceptable to merely request better treatment of Palestinians in Israeli occupation prisons, but to demand an end to the arbitrary system of Israeli detentions,” the letter said.

Israeli border police officers scuffle with Palestinian demonstrators blocking a road outside the West Bank town of Bethlehem, during a protest calling for the release of Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails, February 18, 2013. (Reuters / Ammar Awad)
Israeli border police officers scuffle with Palestinian demonstrators blocking a road outside the West Bank town of Bethlehem, during a protest calling for the release of Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails, February 18, 2013. (Reuters / Ammar Awad)

­If their current situation continues, the declining health of the four protesters, Samer Issawi, Tareq Qaadan, Jafar Ezzedine and Ayman Sharawna, could lead to their imminent deaths. Erkat went on to say that he would hold the Israeli regime “fully responsible” if one of them were to die, saying that the EU had the chance to prevent a tragedy if they took immediate and definitive action.

Qaadan, 40, and Ezzedine, 41, were both arrested in Araba, northern West Bank in November 2012, in an operation which saw troops detaining 55 "terror operatives."

Issawi, 33, and Sharawna, 36, were long-term security prisoners, initially released by Israel as part of a prisoner swap deal in October 2011, but were rearrested amidst allegations that they violated the agreement’s terms and were required to serve out their original sentences. Issawi, now weighs 47kg (104lbs), and was told by a doctor that his heart could stop at any time if he refuses water, which he started doing from the beginning of February, according to Ma’an News Agency.

Israeli border police take up positions during clashes with Palestinian stone-throwers that broke out after a rally in the West Bank city of Hebron to show solidarity with prisoners on hunger strike in Israeli jails February 18, 2013. (Reuters / Ammar Awad)
Israeli border police take up positions during clashes with Palestinian stone-throwers that broke out after a rally in the West Bank city of Hebron to show solidarity with prisoners on hunger strike in Israeli jails February 18, 2013. (Reuters / Ammar Awad)

­Prisoners can be held without trial or charge for a six month period, which can be renewed indefinitely. This practice of ‘administrative detention’ is supposedly used by the Israeli military when it fears an immediate risk to security or wants to protect informants.

The Middle East Quartet (the UN, US, EU and Russia) recently issued warnings about the condition of the strikers, and Ashton voiced her concern in a statement on Saturday, saying that the EU was calling for the “full respect of international human rights obligations towards all Palestinian detainees and prisoners.”

She went on to voice her wider concern over the administrative detention policy and its conflict with international human rights law.

“Detainees have the right to be informed about the reasons underlying any detention and to have the legality of their detention determined without undue delay,” she said.

An Israeli border police officer fires tear gas during clashes with Palestinian stone-throwers that broke out after a rally in the West Bank city of Hebron to show solidarity with prisoners on hunger strike in Israeli jails February 18, 2013. (Reuters / Ammar Awad)
An Israeli border police officer fires tear gas during clashes with Palestinian stone-throwers that broke out after a rally in the West Bank city of Hebron to show solidarity with prisoners on hunger strike in Israeli jails February 18, 2013. (Reuters / Ammar Awad)

­Palestinians also demonstrated on Friday over the controversy, with Jerusalem Post reporting that IDF soldiers used riot dispersal means, such as rubber bullets, to disperse the Palestinians who “threw rocks at the IDF.”

At least 4,610 Palestinian ‘political’ prisoners have been being held in Israeli jails, according to a Palestinian Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association report published last April. However, independent sources placed the number of Palestinian detainees in Israeli jails at closer to 11,000.

The detention orders of the four prisoners are due to either be renewed or expire on February 22, leading to an elevated increase in pressure to release the prisoners.

“We therefore urge you to consider the importance of human rights and international humanitarian law in your bilateral relations and agreements with the State of Israel,” Erkat concluded.

On Monday, RT reported on the case of Veronika, whose Israeli husband was kidnapped from Ukraine two years ago by Israel’s special services. He has been kept imprisoned in horrific conditions and denied medical assistance. He was accused of training militants in a mosque and being involved with missiles.

He now weighs 61kg, has a heart condition, asthma, and problems with his kidneys and digestive system, with no doctors being allowed to tend to him.