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Rights group: Israel punishing detainee hunger strikers

Oct. 7, 2011 1:42 P.M. (Updated: Oct. 8, 2011 6:34 P.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- Israeli prison authorities are cracking down on Palestinians on hunger strike in Israeli jails, a prisoner rights group said Thursday.

Strikers protesting worsening conditions have been transferred to different facilities, denied visits by lawyers, and put in solitary confinement, a release from Addameer said.

At Ofer prison, 12 hunger strikers were held in two isolation cells meant for four detainees each and forced to walk around the prison overnight, the group said. Hunger strikers at Ofer and Ashkelon prisons have been beaten by prison authorities, it said.

Detainees' lawyers said they were turned away from jails due to a "situation of emergency" declared by Israel's prison service, the group added.

One lawyer was able to meet PFLP leader Ahmad Saadat and Palestinian parliamentarian Jamal Abu Hija on Thursday, the statement said. The men told the lawyer Israeli authorities removed all electrical items from their cell, and barred cigarettes and salt, in response to their hunger strike.

Saadat, who has been isolated in jail for three years, and whose treatment sparked the first strikes on Sept. 27, was fined 228 shekels ($61) and his ban on family visits extended for taking part, the group said.

Israeli prison authorities could not be reached for comment.

Hamas and Fatah affiliated detainees have since joined the strike at jails across Israel, and supporters have rallied for the detainees in Gaza and the West Bank, and demonstrated outside Israel's Ofer jail on Wednesday.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced in June that Palestinians would see curbs on their prison rights until a captured Israeli soldier is freed.

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

Prime Minister in the Gaza-based government Ismail Haniyeh said Friday that the international community was blind to the plight of Palestinian detainees while calling for Shalit's release.

Addressing worshipers at Friday prayers in Shafiay mosque, in Gaza City's al-Zeitoun neighborhood, Haniyeh called on Palestinian movements to remain committed to the demands of detainees on hunger strike, and call for their release from Israeli jail.

While "the whole world is calling for (Shalit's) release, they are blind ... to the release of 7,500 Palestinian detainees in Israeli prisons," Haniyeh said.

Rights groups say the clampdown on Palestinians in Israeli jails 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.

The Palestinian Authority says around 6,000 Palestinians are currently detained in Israeli prisons.
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