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Qaraqe calls on Pope to save hunger-strikers

May 2, 2012 2:08 P.M. (Updated: May 3, 2012 11:17 A.M.)
RAMALLAH (Ma'an) -- PA prisoners minister Issa Qaraqe on Wednesday urged Catholic Pope Benedict to intervene for Palestinian detainees, after doctors warned that a hunger-striker in Israeli jail faces immediate risk of death.

Qaraqe wrote to the Pope calling for the Catholic leader to save the lives of prisoners on hunger-strike for more than two months.

"Israel's treatment (of Palestinian prisoners) violates all monotheistic and divine religions, depriving them of their fundamental rights which all international laws and human rights principles guarantee," Qaraqe wrote, according to a statement from his ministry.

"The (hunger-striking) prisoners are fighting for their dignity, rights, and justice ... From your spiritual, humanitarian, and religious position as a fount of peace and justice, we hope that you immediately intervene to save the prisoners, releasing them safe and sound to their families," he continued.

"I appeal you on behalf of the Nativity Church and Jesus Christ who suffered in occupied Palestine, to end ongoing deaths, and to save the prisoners' lives."

A hunger strike by Palestinians jailed in Israel peaked two weeks ago, when over a thousand detainees joined long-term hunger-strikers on Palestinian Prisoners Day.

Prisoners groups estimate 2,000 detainees are now refusing food in a bid to improve their conditions.

Doctor: Immediate risk of death

Ten detainees who started refusing food in the last two months have been transferred to hospital in a serious health condition, Palestinian Prisoners Society head Qadura Fares said.

Two hunger-strikers -- Bilal Diab, 27, from Jenin, and Thaer Halahla, 33, from Hebron -- are in a precarious condition after 64 days without food, a doctor from Physicians for Human Rights-Israel who visited them on Monday told prisoners rights group Addameer.

It was only the second visit to the hunger-strikers since they began refusing food on Feb. 29, after a legal petition was filed to gain access to the prisoners, Addameer said.

Israeli prison authorities also banned the hunger-strikers' lawyer, Jamal Khatib, and relatives of Diab from visiting the jail on Monday, the group said.

"Bilal’s life-threatening condition includes sharp weight loss, concern for peripheral nerve damage, extremely low pulse (39 beats per minute) and blood pressure, severe dehydration, and possible internal bleeding," the doctor told Addameer.

Both detainees are unable to stand and suffer an acute decrease in muscle tone, the doctor said. Their appeal to Israel's High Court to end their detention without charge will be heard on Thursday, Khatib said.

Awaiting response

Representatives of the prisoners in jail said Israeli prison authorities pledged to respond soon to the hunger-strikers' demands -- including stopping administrative detention, solitary confinement, and a family visit ban for Gaza prisoners.

Fatah prisoners delegate Karim Younis said Israeli prisons chief Aharon Franco pledged a response to all demands in the coming days.

Jailed lawmaker Jamal al-Tirawi said that the prison's intelligence director who met with prisoner representatives in Megiddo jail pledged to reply by May 12.

Meanwhile, 50 Palestinians in Gaza announced they were joining the hunger-strike to support the prisoners, Waed prisoners society said.

Spokesman Abdullah Qindeel said freed prisoners and various faction members joined the strike, wearing black and holding a vigil in a tent at the Square of the Unknown Soldier in Gaza City.
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