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Balboul brothers to be released as 2 hunger strikers remain in critical condition

Dec. 7, 2016 12:18 P.M. (Updated: Dec. 8, 2016 9:40 P.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- After more than five months in Israeli prison and over 75 days on an open hunger strike, Muhammad and Mahmoud Balboul are set to be released back to their home in the occupied West Bank city of Bethlehem on Thursday, as prisoners Anas Shadid and Ahmad Abu Farah remained in critical condition amid their ongoing hunger strikes.

Muhammad, 26, and Mahmoud, 23, were initially detained during an overnight raid on June 9, and were subsequently sentenced to six months of administrative detention -- an Israeli policy of internment without charge or trial based on undisclosed evidence.

Muhammad and Mahmoud launched a hunger strike on July 7 and 5 , respectively, going without food for 77 and 79 days in protest of being held without charge or trial in Israeli prison.

The Palestinian Committee of Prisoners’ Affairs said Wednesday that the Balboul family had “sacrificed and given so much to Palestine,” emphasizing that the brothers are sons of Ahmad Balboul, a leader of Fatah’s Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, the armed wing of the group, who was killed by undercover Israeli forces in 2008.

Their 15-year-old sister Nuran was also detained for three months, as Israeli forces accused her of possessing a knife, an allegation that the family and others vehemently denied.

Since Nuran's release, she and her mother Sanaa have organized tirelessly for the release of the brothers, supporting local hunger-striking tents erected in Bethlehem and Ramallah, and even meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in September to urge the leader to exert pressure on Israel to release Muhammad and Mahmoud.

The brothers eventually ended their hunger strike on Sept. 21 with their fellow hunger striker Malik al-Qadi following a decision by Israeli authorities not to extend their administrative detention sentences.

They have been set for release on Dec. 8.

Meanwhile, hunger strikers Anas Shadid and Ahmad Abu Farah, both residents of the southern occupied West Bank village of Dura, are in critical condition, their lawyer Ahlam Haddad said on Wednesday.

Shadid, 20, and Abu Farah, 29, who have been on hunger strike for 74 and 75 days, respectively. The hunger strikers rejected a deal earlier this month that would see their administrative detention renewed for another four months, but with a guarantee of release at its conclusion.

Shadid and Abu Farah have remained steadfast in their commitment to continue their hunger strikes until they are completely released from administrative detention.

Haddad said that their health conditions have become more critical each day, and they have both completely lost their ability to speak and have partially lost their eyesight, adding that Abu Farah has lost the ability to see out of his right eye, while Shadid suffers from breathing problems, severe pains in the chest, blurred vision, and has lost feeling in his legs.

Haddad also said that the prisoners are expected to suffer from heart disorders as a result of their strikes, and that they have been “assaulted” by Israeli guards and the medical team responsible for following up on their conditions at Israel’s Assaf HaRofeh Hospital.

Meanwhile, the Palestinian Committee of Prisoners' Affairs also said Wednesday that Haddad had filed an urgent appeal in the Israeli Supreme Court demanding the immediate release of Shadid and Abu Farah in light of the serious deterioration of their health this week.

On Monday, senior Hamas official, Ismail Radwan urged Palestinian resistance fighters to capture Israeli soldiers in order to position them as a bargaining chip to force Israeli authorities into releasing Palestinian prisoners from Israeli prisons.

The statement was made during a gathering in support of Abu Farah and Shadid, organized by the Islamic Jihad movement in Gaza.

“It is a noble goal to fight for the release of our prisoners, and the only choice we have is with the rifle,” Radwan said at the gathering, adding that Israeli authorities “respond” to Palestinian demands when their soldiers are captured.

A spokesman of Islamic Jihad, Dawood Shihab, also warned Israeli authorities that the Palestinian resistance would never abandon the Palestinians held in Israeli prisons, saying that “resistance will never leave our prisoners to be prey for the Israeli occupation.”

As Israel currently holds 7,000 Palestinians in their prisons, and with 40 percent of Palestinian men having been detained by Israel at some point in their lives, many families of Palestinian political prisoners have rested heavily on the prospects of another prisoner swap between Israel and Palestinian leaders as the only promising avenue of their release.

Meanwhile, rights groups have claimed that Israel's administrative detention policy has been used as an attempt to disrupt Palestinian political and social processes, notably targeting Palestinian politicians, activists, and journalists.

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