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Former hunger-striker al-Sarsak arrives in Gaza Strip

July 10, 2012 1:05 A.M. (Updated: July 12, 2012 9:49 A.M.)
GAZA CITY (Ma’an) -- Former hunger-striker Mahmoud al-Sarsak arrived on Tuesday in the Gaza Strip after being released from Israeli custody.

Relatives gathered at the Palestinian side of the Israeli Erez crossing in northern Gaza to welcome the freed prisoner, who refused food in Israeli jail for over 90 days to protest his imprisonment without charge.

He was transferred to Shifa hospital in Gaza City for medical attention, where hundreds gathered to greet the former hunger-striker, who looked in a stable condition, a Ma'an reporter said.

"I thank God and all the athletes of the world," Sarsak said, between sips from a bottle of water.

Senior Islamic Jihad leader Nafith Azzam held a news conference at the hospital pledging to continue solidarity activities supporting Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails.

"Mahmoud al-Sarsak has his name written in the records of honor and glory, and what he did will make us more adamant to stand in the face of occupation," Azzam said.

Promising midfielder

The 25-year-old soccer player from the Gaza Strip had been imprisoned by Israel without charge or trial since July 2009. He agreed to end his hunger strike on June 18 in return for his release.

He was not included in a May deal which ended mass hunger strikes in Israeli jails, and an offer to free him was withdrawn by Israeli authorities after he asked for his release date to be put in writing, prisoners rights group Addameer says.

Al-Sarsak is the only person held under Israel’s Unlawful Combatants Law, which allows for Palestinians from Gaza to be detained for an unlimited amount of time without charge or trial.

He had joined the local soccer team in his Rafah refugee camp in the southern Gaza Strip at 14, becoming the youngest footballer to play in the Palestine Liga A at the time. The midfielder attracted the attention of a German coach while playing for the Palestine national team in Norway.

The first step was to play for a team in the West Bank. But Israeli security arrested him on July 22, 2009, at the Erez crossing from the blockaded Gaza Strip, the only route to Palestinian territory in the occupied West Bank.

Still on hunger strike

Another Gaza man, Akram al-Rekhawi, 39, remains on hunger strike after 90 days without food seeking an early release due to illness, Palestinian officials said.

A diabetic, he has been held in a prison clinic since he was detained by Israeli forces in June 2004. He has served eight years of a nine-year sentence.

Another detainee, Samer Al-Barq, 36, is on his 50th day of hunger strike after his administrative detention was renewed. A lawyer from prisoners rights group Addameer who visited him last week said his condition was weakening.

Administrative detainee Hassan Safadi, 34, is on his 20th day of renewed hunger strike, after his detention without charge was renewed in violation of the agreement ending the hunger strikes in May, Addameer says. He was previously on hunger strike for 71 days.

Reuters contributed to this report
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