Palestinian prisoners go on hunger strike en masse to protest inmate's death

The hunger strikers charge Israel with failing to provide adequate care for the man, who was diagnosed with cancer. Israel's Prison Service says it took him to a hospital and was arranging an early release.

Hatem Moussa/AP
A Palestinian woman holds a portrait of Maisara Abu Hamdiyeh during a rally in Gaza City, Tuesday. Abu Hamdiyeh who was serving a life sentence for his role in a foiled attempt to bomb a busy cafe in Jerusalem in 2002, died Tuesday of cancer in an Israeli jail. Tensions are high in Israeli lockups where thousands of Palestinian security prisoners are being held.

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Thousands of Palestinian prisoners began a planned three-day hunger strike this morning in protest of the death of a Palestinian inmate who died of cancer yesterday, while in Israeli custody.

The Palestine News Network writes that some 4,500 Palestinian prisoners sent back their food this morning as part of a protest over the death of Maisara Abu Hamdiyeh, a 64-year-old Hamas member who was diagnosed with esophageal cancer in February. The Palestinian establishment widely blames his death, the cause of which has not yet been conclusively determined, on Israel for failing to provide him with adequate care, reports Haaretz.

"The Israeli refusal to address our appeals to release [Abu Hamdiyeh] led to a deterioration in his condition," Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said. "We turned to many countries and to the international community to act on behalf of the Palestinian prisoners but Israel did not sway from its position."

The Palestinian Prisoners' Committee also accused Israeli authorities of intentionally and negligently delaying treatment for Abu Hamdiyeh. 

But Israel's Prison Service said that it had done all it could for Abu Hamdiyeh since he was diagnosed in February, including transferring him to the Soroka University Medical Center in Beersheba and beginning the process to grant him an early release, the Jerusalem Post reports. 

“The [release] board held one discussion on the matter and was supposed to hold another one this week,” said Gondar Nasim Sabiti, a Prisons Service district commander.

The Christian Science Monitor reports from Gaza that Abu Hamdiyeh's death also spurred a rare public protest in Gaza by Hamas's armed wing, which has been keeping a low profile.

Supporters gathered at a local mosque at dusk, armed gunmen from the Qassam Brigades spilling out of at least five pick-up trucks to kick off the march in a rare public appearance since the November cease-fire.

They were followed by several thousand supporters on foot, from elderly men limping along to bands of rowdy children. With the death of Hamdiyeh and [Arafat Jaradat, a prisoner who died last month – allegedly due to Israeli torture, according to Palestinians] and several prominent Palestinian prisoners on very prolonged hunger strikes, the prisoner issue has garnered the attention of both Fatah and Hamas officials in recent months.

Supporters of both factions are particularly irritated that Israel has rearrested prisoners like Jaradat who were released as part of the prisoner swap to secure the release in 2011 of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, who was kidnapped and held in Gaza for several years.

The Ma'an News Agency adds that Hebron and East Jerusalem "shut down" as part of a general strike in mourning of his death.

Abu Hamdiyeh had been serving a life sentence after being convicted of several crimes, including attempted murder in connection with a 2002 bombing plot. An autopsy is scheduled for today, and his funeral is set to take place tomorrow.

The prison protests come amid signs that the November ceasefire between Israel and Hamas is weakening. Yesterday and today, there was an exchange of fire between Israel and Gaza, as Israeli warplanes carried out an airstrike in northern Gaza and several Palestinian rockets were fired, hitting near Sderot, in response.  No injuries were reported from either attack, reports CBS News.

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