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Former hunger-striking Balboul brothers released from Israeli prison

Dec. 8, 2016 10:18 P.M. (Updated: Dec. 9, 2016 11:09 A.M.)
After being released from prison, the Balboul brothers celebrate with their mother Sanaa in Bethlehem's Manger Square
BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- After more than five months in Israeli prison and refusing food for more than 75 days in protest of being held by Israel without charge or trial, the now iconic Balboul brothers Muhammad and Mahmoud were released on Thursday.

Head of the Palestinian Committee of Prisoners’ Affairs Issa Qaraqe told Ma’an Israeli authorities released the two at the Salim checkpoint of Jenin, the northernmost district of the West Bank.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas received Mahmoud and Muhammad at the presidency's headquarters in Ramallah in the central West Bank shortly after their release, in a meeting attended by Qaraqe and Ramallah Mayor Laila Ghannam.

The Balboul brothers with Issa Qaraqe in Ramallah, shortly after their release

After the meeting, the Balboul brothers made their way to their home in the Old City of Bethlehem, where crowds of people awaited their return in Manger Square.

Mahmoud Balboul addresses crowds at the reception for him and his brother's in front of the Nativity Church in Bethlehem's Manger Square

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.

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

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 this year, 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 meeting with Abbas in September to urge the leader to exert pressure on Israel to release Muhammad and Mahmoud.

Meanwhile, Palestinian prisoners Anas Shadid and Ahmad Abu Farah, both residents of the southern occupied West Bank village of Dura, continued their hunger strikes against administrative detentions as of Thursday, in spite of their critical conditions. Shadid, 20, and Abu Farah, 29, have gone without food for 74 and 75 days, respectively.

The European Union representative in Jerusalem and Ramallah released a statement on Thursday condemning Israel’s policy of administrative detention, highlighting the cases of Shadid and Abu Farah.

“There are now over 700 Palestinians, including at least three minors being held in administrative detention, a number which has more than doubled within the last 18 months,” the statement said.

"The EU, Switzerland, and Norway call for the full respect of international human rights obligations towards all prisoners. Detainees have the right to be informed about the charges underlying any detention, must be granted access to legal assistance, and be subject to a fair trial.”
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