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Former prisoners join hunger strike

Oct. 5, 2011 10:42 A.M. (Updated: Oct. 6, 2011 10:45 A.M.)
NABLUS (Ma'an) -- Former detainees in Nablus started a hunger strike on Wednesday in solidarity with prisoners in Israel who are striking for the ninth consecutive day, a prisoners' society said.

The Palestinian Prisoners' Society said former detainee and activist Sahar Abdo, who lives in Israel, has also joined the hunger strike.

Palestinians jailed in Israel went on a mass hunger strike on Sept. 27 to protest harsh conditions imposed since Israel toughened restrictions on them in a bid to force the release of a kidnapped Israeli soldier.

Gilad Shalit was captured just outside the Gaza Strip in 2006 and Hamas is seeking the release of more than 1,000 prisoners in return for his freedom.

Israel has agreed in principle to a prisoner swap but there is no agreement on who should be released.

But in the midst of the political wrangling, the mother of one detainee says she is desperate for news of her son, who is in isolation in an Israeli prison.

"I have heard some very sad news. Today, his father told me that my son was moved to solitary confinement. You know that my heart is burning inside. I hope that God stands by them," said Um Raed Abu Ramouz.

Her son Imad was arrested in 2003 after he was convicted of carrying out operations against the Israeli army and also of belonging to the al-Aqsa brigades.

Thousands of demonstrators staged rallies in the West Bank and Jerusalem this week to support prisoners who have started refusing food.

Israel says only 160 prisoners are on hunger strike and that none are in danger.

But the mother of one prisoner said Israel was imposing a very harsh regime on those locked away.

"They deprive them of books, deprive them of education, deprive them of schooling. Our heroes and leaders have been in continuous isolation for years. This makes us stand up in support of our prisoners. We call on all our people, all the Palestinian people and all people who are concerned with human rights, to stand with us," said Rawda Ouda.

The strike was launched by detainees affiliated with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, protesting the treatment of PFLP leader Ahmad Saadat, who has been held in isolation for three years.

A prisoners' group lawyer said Tuesday that prison authorities had moved 50 PFLP-affiliated prisoners from Majdo jail to Shatta prison as a punishment for the strike.

Meanwhile detainees in Rimon prison said the jail's administration had revoked all visits. Inmates in Ofer prison said they would refuse visits because of the strike.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced in June that Palestinians would see curbs on their prison rights until Shalit was handed over.

But a senior Hamas official warned that rather than bow to Israeli pressure, militants would abduct more Israeli soldiers to push their demand for a mass-release of Palestinian inmates.

According to the minister for prisoner affairs in Ramallah, around 6,000 Palestinians are currently detained in Israeli prisons.

"Our message to the world is it should move and not remain silent because the struggle of the prisoners is a struggle for all humanity, for every free human being. It is a defense of dignity, of values and of human principles. So we say 'enough', they shouldn't remain silent and watch the occupation which acts like a state above the law, violating all international and humanitarian laws," said Issa Qaraqe, joining a protest in Ramallah.

Rights groups say the clampdown includes preventing access to books, educational programs and new clothes, expanding solitary confinement, cutting back on family visits and forcing detainees to meet their lawyers with their hands cuffed.

Reuters contributed to this report.
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