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Ministry: Israel cancels visits to Gaza prisoners

Oct. 29, 2012 7:29 P.M. (Updated: Nov. 2, 2012 4:17 P.M.)
RAMALLAH (Ma'an) -- Israel has canceled family visits for prisoners from Gaza, three months after they were resumed, the PA Ministry of Detainee Affairs said Monday.

In July, Israel allowed the first visits to prisoners from Gaza in five years. Visits had been banned since 2007 to pressure Hamas to release Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, who was freed in Oct. 2011.

Israel agreed to resume family visits for Gaza prisoners as part of a deal to end a mass month-long hunger strike in Israeli jails. At the time, Minister of Detainee Affairs Issa Qaraqe said visits were resuming on an "experimental basis."

On Monday, the ministry said visits to the 444 prisoners from Gaza had been canceled as the "trial period" had ended.

The ministry said in a statement that Israel had not fulfilled its commitments in the deal to end the hunger strike.

The visits allowed since July had been limited, the ministry said, adding that children had not been allowed to visit their jailed relatives and visitors were not allowed to bring personal items to prisoners.

A prisoner representative in Nafha jail, Alaa Abu Jazer, denounced Israel's decision to cancel family visits and described the move as "provocative."

Since 2007, the International Committee of the Red Cross had called for the resumption of family visits and it welcomed the first visits in July.

"This is a first step and we hope that visits by residents of Gaza will resume in full," said Juan Pedro Schaerer, the head of the local ICRC delegation, in July.

"We have repeatedly called for the resumption of family visits, which are a lifeline for detainees and their families. Under international humanitarian law, Israeli authorities have an obligation to allow the detainees to receive family visits."

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