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Bethlehem deportees: Hunger strike against Italy, not the PA

Aug. 21, 2009 9:37 P.M. (Updated: Aug. 23, 2009 6:45 P.M.)
Bethlehem – Ma'an – Palestinians deported from Bethlehem during the 2002 siege of the Nativity Church insisted on Friday their hunger strike at Palestine's embassy in Rome was meant to pressure Italy, not the Palestinian Authority.

The hunger strike, which began on Thursday, was started to pressure Italian authorities to abide by conditions the prisoners said were promised to them, including living a decent life in Italy and eventually returning to Bethlehem, following their agreement in 2002 to end their shelter inside the Church of the Nativity in exchange for guarantees they would not be killed or jailed by Israel.

The three Palestinians involved in the strike were identified as Mohammad Abu As-Sa'eed, Khaled Abu Nejmah, and Ibrahim E'beyat. They were deported to Europe as part of an agreement that would see Israel end its siege of Bethlehem in exchange for the Palestinian militants' deportation to Europe and Gaza.

On Thursday, Abu As-Sa'eed told Ma'an in a telephone interview that he and his fellow deportees would "sleep on chairs inside the embassy until our demands are met."

A similar hunger strike was carried out some two months earlier and ended upon the Italian government's promise to meet their demands, they said. But Italy's failure to abide by its commitment has forced the deportees to begin anew, they insisted on Friday.

"Our primary demand is either to return to Palestine, but if that's not possible, the Italian government should respond to our demands that we live in dignity on its soil for the period of our deportation," Abu As-Sa'eed said.

Rather than blaming the PA for their predicament, Abu As-Sa'eed said Palestine Liberation Organization negotiator Saeb Erekat and the staff of the Palestinian embassy in Rome had "supported our stance through intensive contacts [with Italian authorities]."

Abu As-Sa'eed urged media outlets to continue focusing on their plight, including that of deportee Jihad Ij'areh in Ireland, and threatened to expand the strike to all of Europe if progress is not made soon.
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