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Israeli court orders Issawi to remain in custody

Feb. 19, 2013 5:41 P.M. (Updated: Feb. 21, 2013 10:03 P.M.)
JERUSALEM (Ma'an) -- An Israeli court on Tuesday ruled that Samer Issawi, who has been on hunger strike for over 200 days, must remain in custody.

Issawi's lawyer Jawad Bulous requested Issawi's release at a magistrate's court in Jerusalem. An Israeli military prosecutor opposed the request.

Issawi, who entered the court in a wheelchair surrounded by armed guards, has been on hunger strike since August. Asked by the judge about his condition, Issawi "replied in a weak voice that he suffers pains and is facing death," Bulous told Ma'an.

His mother collapsed in court as the judge announced that Issawi would remain in prison until the next hearing in one month.

Hundreds of Palestinians in Israeli jails declared a one-day fast on Tuesday in solidarity with Issawi and three other prisoners on hunger strike.

The Palestinian Prisoners Club, which looks after the welfare of inmates and their families, said 800 prisoners were taking part in the day-long fast.

The prisoners' campaign against detention without trial has touched off violent protests over the past several weeks outside an Israeli military prison and across the West Bank.

In the Gaza Strip, Islamic Jihad said a truce with Israel that ended eight days of fighting in November could unravel if any hunger striker died.

Issawi was among 1,027 jailed Palestinians freed by Israel in 2011 in exchange for Gilad Shalit, a soldier who was abducted on the Gaza border.

Issawi and Ayman Sharawneh, who has also been on hunger strike, are among 14 Palestinians who have been re-arrested by Israel since being released in the Shalit trade.

Ofir Gendelman, a spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, wrote on Twitter that Issawi and Sharawneh were detained "because they violated the terms of the Shalit deal by returning to illegal activities which pose a threat".

International concern

PLO negotiator Saeb Erekat said he had been in contact with Israel and urged it to release the men. He said Egypt, which helped mediate the Shalit prisoner swap and also negotiated an end to a Palestinian mass hunger strike in Israeli jails last year, was trying to end the new protest.

Israel has defused previous long-term hunger strikes among the some 4,700 Palestinians in its jails by agreeing to release individuals or deporting them to Gaza -- a prospect rejected by the four prisoners, who hail from Jerusalem and the West Bank.

The Quartet of Middle East negotiators -- the United States, Russia, the United Nations and European Union -- have expressed concern at the hunger strike.

In a statement on Monday, France's Foreign Ministry urged Israel "to be sensitive to the risk of a tragic outcome and to take appropriate measures as a matter of urgency".

The statement said "administrative detention must remain an exceptional measure of limited duration and be carried out with due regard for fundamental safeguards".

Israel holds some Palestinians in "administrative detention" based on evidence presented in a closed military court. It says the practice pre-empts militant attacks against it while keeping its counter-intelligence sources and tactics secret.

There were some 178 administrative detainees in Israeli jails in January, down from just over 300 around the time of another hunger strike campaign last spring, according to prisoner rights group Addameer.

"The battle waged by me and by my heroic colleagues ... is everyone's battle, the battle of the Palestinian people against the occupation and its prisons," Issawi said in a message conveyed to the PA Ministry of Prisoners last week.

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