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ICRC suspends activities in Jerusalem after protesters storm office

Aug. 5, 2016 9:43 A.M. (Updated: Aug. 7, 2016 6:49 P.M.)
JERUSALEM (Ma’an) -- The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) will shut down their services in the Jerusalem office on Sunday in response to a group of protesters and prisoners’ families storming the office on Wednesday evening, according to ICRC officials.

A spokesperson for ICRC told Ma’an that the protesters obstructed work from being carried out in the office, while threatening the safety of the employees.

In a statement, Deputy Director of ICRC in Jerusalem and the West Bank Ajat Sricker called the protest “unacceptable” and announced the suspension of all ICRC activities in Jerusalem on August 7 until “a safe work environment is guaranteed for our employees.”

She added that the suspension of activities in the Jerusalem office would not affect ICRC offices in the occupied West Bank.

ICRC has been a target of protests in recent weeks after the group reduced family visits to male Palestinian prisoners from two times a month to just one. Four prisoners declared hunger strikes on July 18 -- identified as Ahmad al-Barghouthi, Mahmoud Sarahneh, Ziyad al-Bazzar, and Amin Kamil -- in protest of the decision.

Last month, the Palestinian Prisoner’s Society (PPS) denounced ICRC’s decision, calling it a continuation of suppressive procedures imposed on prisoners by Israeli authorities, and saying that the NGO did not consult with Palestinian officials or prisoners’ families before implementing the change.

The group said the reduction in family visits constituted a move against a right obtained by prisoners after a 35-year long struggle, adding that it increased the suffering of families of prisoners.

In June, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) also slammed ICRC’s decision, saying that the international NGO was “increasing the burden upon (prisoners) with policies and procedures...which represent a clear decline of its role in accordance and even collusion with the systematic policy of the occupation.”

The prisoner solidarity network Samidoun explained that families of Palestinian prisoners held in Israel must obtain special permits to visit their imprisoned family members. However, since these permits are often rejected or delayed, families of prisoners rely heavily on ICRC-arranged visits that, before July, were organized twice a month for 45 minute sessions with the prisoners.

More than 300 Palestinian prisoners have joined a mass hunger strike in Israeli prisons, including those protesting against ICRC’s decision, which was first launched in solidarity with fellow prisoner Bilal Kayid -- now entering his 51st day without food, while scores of others have continued to join in protest of Israel’s arbitrary use of administrative detention on Palestinians -- a policy of internment without charge or trial.
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