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Israel cancels prison visits in concession to Shalit supporters

Aug. 25, 2009 12:55 P.M. (Updated: Aug. 26, 2009 12:39 P.M.)
Bethlehem – Ma’an – The Israel Prison service cancelled scheduled family visits of Palestinian prisoners at two prisons on Tuesday as a result of demonstrations by supporters of captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.

Palestinian families will be unable to visit their relatives jailed at Hadareim and Shikma prisons as a result of a demonstration by a group calling themselves an “Army of Shalit's Friends.”

The Israeli demonstrators were calling for Israel to impose harsher sanctions on Palestinian prisoners in order to convince Hamas to release Shalit, who has been held by Palestinian fighters in Gaza since 2006. The protests were to coincide with Shalit’s 23rd birthday.

The Ministry of Prisoner’s affairs in Gaza described the decision as a sign of inability to reign in extremist settler groups in the country saying, “Israeli authorities boast of their power against unarmed prisoners and deprive them of family visits. At the same time, they fail to counter extremists who block roads and deprive Palestinian families of visiting their sons in custody under the pretext that Shalit family is not allowed to visit him in Gaza.”

The Palestinian-Israeli human rights organization Adalah also denounced the decision as “illegal” in a statement on Tuesday, and criticized Israel for acquiescing to pressure an extremist group outside their control.

Since June 2007 Israel has revoked the visitation rights for families of over 900 prisoners from Gaza currently held in Israeli prison.
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