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Beit Ummar teens spend year in Israeli jail

Jan. 22, 2013 4:39 A.M. (Updated: Jan. 23, 2013 8:47 A.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- Eight teenagers from the southern West Bank town of Beit Ummar have spent almost a year behind bars in Israeli jails, deprived of their basic rights including education.

On March 7, 2012, Israeli troops ransacked the homes of eight teenagers who then found themselves in prison cells facing Israeli interrogators.

Saed Suleibi, Muhab Aadi and Sami Abu Judah are now 15 years old, and Bilal Awad, Ayish Awad, Basil Abu Hashim and Ahmad Suleibi are 16. They are being held at Ofer prison.

The eighth detainee, 14-year-old Zein Abu Marya was recently released and placed under house arrest after his family paid a 5,000-shekel ($1,340) fine.

Initially, an Israeli military court ordered the other seven teenagers to be banned from Beit Ummar. The ruling received negative media attention and on Jan. 16 the court instead ordered the teens to pay 3,000 shekels ($800) each before the next hearing on Sunday.

Lawyers say they expect the boys to be sentenced to between 14 and 18 months if their families pay the fines.

Beit Ummar popular committee secretary-general Yousif Abu Maria told Ma'an the sentence and fine would be doubled if the families fail to pay by Sunday. Saed Suleibi's father and lawyer confirmed the details.

The families are struggling to get the money together. They sought assistance from the Palestinian Authority's Ministry of Detainee Affairs, but the ministry's lawyer said the PA did not pay fines and noted that the Ramallah government was facing a financial crisis.

"My son begged me to pay the fine so he can be released," Saed Suleibi's father told Ma'an. "Don't Saed and the other detainees have the right to be in their school seats instead of being in prison cells?"

The Israeli intelligence is accusing the boys of hurling stones at settlers' vehicles on the main road near Beit Ummar, causing damage to a car.

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