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Barghouti, UN urge action on Palestinian hunger strikers

Feb. 14, 2013 10:31 P.M. (Updated: Feb. 18, 2013 2:37 P.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- MP Mustafa Barghouti on Thursday urged the world to act to save Palestinian hunger strikers as UN officials insisted Israel must charge or release the detainees.

Samer Issawi has been on hunger strike for 197 days, and Tareq Qaadan and Jaafar Azzidine have refused food for 79 days. All are being held in Israel's Ramle prison.

"I believe the situation is absolutely risky and their lives are in great danger and the only way to stop this tragedy is for the international community to fulfill its duty and exercise the utmost possible pressure on Israel to release them," said Barghouti, secretary-general of the Palestinian National Initiative.

"They are conducting the most peaceful form of non-violent resistance by going on hunger strike for their freedom," Barghouti told Ma'an, noting that their indefinite detention without charge was incompatible with international law.

On Wednesday, UN special rapporteur Richard Falk called for the immediate release of Issawi, Qaadan and Azzidine.

"Continuing to hold Mr Qaadan, Mr Azzidine and Mr Issawi under these conditions is inhumane. Israel is responsible for any permanent harm," Falk warned in a statement.

"If Israeli officials cannot present evidence to support charges against these men, then they must be released immediately," he said, warning that Qaadan and Azzidine were "reportedly on the verge of death, with the threat of a fatal heart attack looming."

"Israel must end the appalling and unlawful treatment of Palestinian detainees. The international community must react with a sense of urgency and use whatever leverage it possesses to end Israel's abusive reliance on administrative detention," the UN special rapporteur said.

Also Wednesday, UN Humanitarian Coordinator James W. Rawley reiterated the world body's position that those detained should be charged and face trial with judicial guarantees in accordance with international standards, or released without delay, in a meeting with Palestinian Authority Minister of Detainee Affairs Issa Qaraqe.

In Ramallah, Rawley discussed the critical health condition of Issawi, and said he had stressed to Israel the need to urgently resolve this issue, a UN statement said.

At the meeting, Qaraqe warned the hunger strikes were "a countdown to disaster."

"We are living in very dangerous moments, and we expect that any one of the hunger strikers may die at any moment amid global silence," the minister said.

Israeli prison service spokeswoman Sivan Weizman told Ma'an that Issawi, Qaadan and Azzidine were all receiving medical treatment and would be hospitalized if necessary.

Qaadan and Azzidine are on open hunger strike in protest at their administrative detention, without charge or trial.

Issawi is also being held in administrative detention. He was released in the Egypt-brokered Oct. 2011 prisoner swap agreement between Israel and Hamas, which secured the release of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit from Gaza. He was rearrested on July 7 and accused of violating the terms of his release by leaving Jerusalem.

In 2012, after a mass hunger strike in Israeli jails, Israel pledged to curb its practice of detaining Palestinians without bringing any criminal charges against them and without a trial.

On Thursday, 360 Palestinians in Rimon jail, as well as Islamic Jihad members in Israeli prisons, will send back meals in solidarity with the hunger strikers, the Palestinian Prisoners Society said.

A mass solidarity hunger strike across Israeli jails is planned on Tuesday, according to the PPS.
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