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Israel continues to deny family visits to Hamas-affiliated prisoners from Gaza

July 10, 2017 12:37 P.M. (Updated: July 11, 2017 11:58 A.M.)
GAZA CITY (Ma'an) -- Fourteen Palestinians in the besieged Gaza Strip, including one child, were able to visit their relatives held in Israeli prisons Monday morning, amid a marked drop in the number of prisoners being allowed to receive such visits, some two weeks after Hamas accused Israel of suspending visits to prisoners affiliated to the faction.

Suheir Zaqqut, a spokeswoman for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), the organization responsible for coordinating with Israeli authorities to arrange family visitations for Palestinian prisoners, told Ma’an that the visits were arranged for the 14 people to visit nine Palestinian detainees held in the Beersheba prison complex in the Negev desert.

The ICRC arranges visits for family members of Gazan prisoners every Monday, however, the number prisoners being permitted by Israel to receive the visits has been greatly reduced since Hamas said that Israel decided to suspend family visitations for all Hamas-affiliated prisoners from the besieged Gaza Strip.

Previously, around 80 family members a week were able to leave Gaza to see their relatives, compared to Monday’s 14.

Zaqqut confirmed that the ICRC noticed the drop in approvals, affirming to Ma’an that “every detainee has the right to receive family visits.”

According to prisoners' rights group Addameer, out of approximately 6,200 Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails, 330 are from the Gaza Strip. The Palestinian Committee of Prisoners' affairs has said that 113 prisoners affiliated to Hamas from Gaza had their right to family visits suspended.

Israeli authorities have yet to publicly acknowledge the suspension of visits to Hamas affiliated prisoners, and a spokesperson for the Israel Prison Service reiterated to Ma'an on Monday that they would comment on the matter.

The ICRC released a statement in May, amid a mass prisoners hunger strike, calling on Israel to abide by international humanitarian law and increase family visits, after Israel suspended visits to all hunger-striking prisoners and visitation permits for their families.

The statement pointed out that under International Law and the Fourth Geneva Convention, an occupying power is forbidden to hold prisoners from an occupied territory outside of the occupied land, however the vast majority of Palestinian prisoners from the occupied West Bank and Gaza are held in prisons inside Israel.

Consequently, family members of prisoners have less access to their relatives, as they need special permits that are difficult to obtain, and have to undertake long trips to see their loved ones, with checks and waiting times when crossing checkpoints and at the prison.

More than two months after the 40-day hunger strike’s conclusion, Israeli authorities revoked entry permits for family members of prisoners who had taken part in the strike.

The ICRC faced anger last year when it reduced the number of monthly visits it facilitates from two times a month to just one, and one of the confirmed outcomes of the hunger strike was an agreement to reinstate the second visit, to be funded by the Palestinian Authority.

The ICRC "Family Visits Program" for Gazans was previously suspended by Israeli authorities in June 2007 when Hamas came to power in the coastal enclave.

All communication between Gazan prisoners and the outside world was effectively cut off, and during a Palestinian prisoners' hunger strike in April 2012, one of the prisoners' key demands was that the program be reinstated.

Israel agreed to resume the visits on the conclusion of the hunger strike, although prisoners rights group Addameer has previously said that not all Gazan prisoners have been allowed to receive visitors.

The Gaza Strip has been under a crippling blockade since Hamas took power in 2007. The 2 million of residents in Gaza are largely confined to the small strip of coastal land, save those who are granted travel or work permits via Israel's borders, or the special "humanitarian cases" that are allowed to pass through Egypt's Rafah crossing which opens a few times per year.
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