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20 Palestinians hurt at prisoner demo near Ramallah

May 2, 2012 5:26 P.M. (Updated: May 4, 2012 8:48 P.M.)
RAMALLAH (Ma'an) -- Twenty Palestinians were injured Wednesday by rubber bullets during clashes with Israeli forces near the Ofer detention center, a Ma'an correspondent said.

A student demonstration set out from Birzeit University toward Ofer to express solidarity with hundreds of Palestinian prisoners who have been on hunger strike for 16 days.

The students marched with Palestinian flags before arriving at the site, where Israeli forces were waiting. Forces fired tear gas canisters and rubber bullets toward the demonstrators.

Journalists also came under fire during the demonstration, the correspondent said.

The students faced off against the forces with rocks and empty bottles, striking an Israeli soldier. The Ma'an correspondent described the clashes as unusually violent.

An Israeli military spokeswoman said two Palestinians and four Israeli soldiers were lightly injured during a "violent and illegal riot" in which 250 demonstrators took part.

Prisoners groups estimate 2,000 detainees are now refusing food in a bid to improve their conditions.

The Palestinian Authority prisoners minister, meanwhile, urged Pope Benedict to intervene on behalf of the detainees, after doctors warned that a hunger-striker faced risk of imminent death.

Issa Qaraqe said "Israel's treatment (of Palestinian prisoners) violates all monotheistic and divine religions, depriving them of their fundamental rights which all international laws and human rights principles".

Ten detainees who started refusing food in the last two months have been transferred to hospital in a serious health condition, Palestinian Prisoners Society head Qadura Fares said.

Two hunger-strikers -- Bilal Diab, 27, from Jenin, and Thaer Halahla, 33, from Hebron -- are in a precarious condition after 64 days without food, a doctor from Physicians for Human Rights-Israel said.

It was only the second visit to the hunger-strikers since they began refusing food on Feb. 29, after a legal petition was filed to gain access to the detainees, the prisoners group Addameer said.

Israeli prison authorities also banned the hunger-strikers' lawyer, Jamal Khatib, and relatives of Diab from visiting the jail on Monday, the group said.

"Bilal’s life-threatening condition includes sharp weight loss, concern for peripheral nerve damage, extremely low pulse (39 beats per minute) and blood pressure, severe dehydration, and possible internal bleeding," the doctor told Addameer.

Both detainees are unable to stand and suffer an acute decrease in muscle tone, the doctor said. Their appeal to Israel's High Court to end their detention without charge will be heard on Thursday, Khatib said.

Awaiting response

Representatives of the prisoners in jail said Israeli prison authorities pledged to respond soon to the hunger-strikers' demands -- including stopping administrative detention, solitary confinement, and a family visit ban for Gaza prisoners.

Fatah prisoners delegate Karim Younis said Israeli prisons chief Aharon Franco pledged a response to all demands in the coming days.

Jailed lawmaker Jamal al-Tirawi said that the prison's intelligence director who met with prisoner representatives in Megiddo jail pledged to reply by May 12.

Meanwhile, 50 Palestinians in Gaza announced they were joining the hunger-strike to support the prisoners, Waed prisoners society said.

Spokesman Abdullah Qindeel said freed prisoners and various faction members joined the strike, wearing black and holding a vigil in a tent at the Square of the Unknown Soldier in Gaza City.
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