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Israeli forces evacuate Palestinian demonstrators from ICRC headquarters in Jerusalem

Aug. 16, 2016 11:24 P.M. (Updated: Aug. 17, 2016 5:47 P.M.)
JERUSALEM (Ma'an) -- Israeli forces Tuesday evening evacuated the headquarters of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in occupied East Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood after ICRC personnel allegedly complained to Israeli forces that their headquarters had been raided when families of Palestinian hunger-striking prisoners staged a sit-in inside the building.

Witnesses told Ma’an that Israeli forces forcibly evacuated the protesting families from the building, while temporarily detaining head of the Jerusalem Committee for Families of Prisoners Amjad Abu Asab and withholding his identification card, claiming he was responsible for organizing the demonstration.

Head of the Palestinian Prisoner’s Society (PPS) in Jerusalem Nasser Qaws accused the ICRC of setting a “dangerous precedent” against the families of Palestinian prisoners who rely on the ICRC to follow up with their claims and concerns, adding that the incident "was an attack on the people.”

Qaws also said that the Israeli police threatened to carry out collective detentions if they were to organize another sit-in at the ICRC headquarters.

He added that families of Palestinian prisoners have carried out a variety of peaceful activities at the headquarters in Jerusalem for the past week in solidarity with hunger-striking prisoners.

An ICRC spokesperson was not immediately available for comment.

ICRC has been a target of protests in recent weeks after the group reduced family visits to male Palestinian prisoners from two times a month to just one. Four prisoners -- identified as Ahmad al-Barghouthi, Mahmoud Sarahneh, Ziyad al-Bazzar, and Amin Kamil -- declared hunger strikes on July 18 in protest of the decision. However, they suspended their hunger strikes earlier this month after receiving promises by Israeli Prison Service (IPS) officials that efforts would be made to reinstate regular family visits for the prisoners.

Last month, PPS denounced ICRC’s decision, calling it a continuation of suppressive procedures imposed on prisoners by Israeli authorities, and saying that the NGO did not consult with Palestinian officials or prisoners’ families before implementing the change.

The group said the reduction in family visits constituted a move against a right obtained by prisoners after a 35-year long struggle, adding that it increased the suffering of families of prisoners.

In June, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) also slammed ICRC’s decision, saying that the international NGO was “increasing the burden upon (prisoners) with policies and procedures...which represent a clear decline of its role in accordance and even collusion with the systematic policy of the occupation.”

Since families of Palestinian prisoners often experience rejection or long-term delays of their permit applications to visit prisons in Israel, including incidents at checkpoints that prevent them from crossing even after they have been issued permits, Palestinians are heavily reliant on ICRC-arranged visitations as ICRC buses transport Palestinians to and from the prisons and act as an institutional medium between the families and Israeli authorities.

However, the Palestinian Authority announced its plans last week to cover the financial expenses of the second family visit for Palestinian prisoners, while ICRC would still be responsible for arranging the visits with Israeli authorities.

At least 100 Palestinian prisoners have joined a mass hunger strike in Israeli prisons as of Monday, which was first launched in solidarity with fellow prisoner Bilal Kayid -- now entering his 63rd day without food, while scores of others have continued to join in protest of Israel’s arbitrary use of administrative detention on Palestinians -- a policy of detention without charge or trial almost exclusively used against Palestinians.

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