EU asks Israel to let families visit hunger strikers

AFP , Tuesday 8 May 2012

The EU, the International Committee of the Red Cross and an Israeli rights group express concern regarding Palestinian hunger strikers, some going through day 70 in protest to Israeli detentions

Israeli Arab protestors hold posters depicting Palestinian prisoners on hunger strike, Thaer Halahleh, left, and Bilal Diab, right, as a hearing in their case takes place nearby in Israel's Supreme Court in Jerusalem Thursday, (Photo: AP).

The Red Cross and EU on Tuesday expressed concern about several Palestinian prisoners in the advanced stages of a hunger strike, urging Israel to provide them with medical treatment and family visits.

In a statement, the European Union delegations in Jerusalem and Ramallah said they were worried about the failing health of several prisoners, two of whom were on their 70th day without food, passing what medics say is the point of no return in terms of recovery.

"The EU missions in Jerusalem and Ramallah are concerned about the deteriorating health condition of the Palestinians held in administrative detention in Israel who have been on hunger strike for more than two months," it said.

"The EU requests the government of Israel to make available all necessary medical assistance and to allow family visits as a matter of urgency," it added.

The International Committee of the Red Cross said it was "extremely concerned" about the fate of a handful of Palestinians on long-term hunger strike, adding they were "in imminent danger of dying."

Five Palestinian prisoners have been refusing food for between seven and 10 weeks in protest at their being held by Israel without charge, under a procedure known as administrative detention.

Bilal Diab, 27, and Thaer Halahla, 33, have both gone 10 weeks without food, sparking widespread concern among medical and legal professionals.

Hassan Safdi, 31, has gone 65 days on hunger strike, and Omar Abu Shlal, who is in his late 40s, has been refusing food for 63 days.

The fifth detainee, Jaffar Ezzedine, has gone 48 days without eating.

The head of the ICRC delegation in Israel and the Palestinian territories Juan Pedro Schaerer called for all long-term hunger strikers to be transferred "without delay to a suitable hospital so that their condition can be continuously monitored."

And he issued an "urgent request" that Israel reverse a ban on family visits for prisoners on hunger strike.

Diab was transferred last week to a nearby civilian hospital called Assaf HaRofeh, but the other four are being held in the infirmary wing of Ramle prison near Tel Aviv, with Physicians for Human Rights-Israel expressing concern they were not receiving adequate medical care.

On Tuesday, PHR-Israel spokeswoman Amani Daeef told AFP that the prison service was refusing to allow Diab's family access to him, saying his condition was "not that severe that he required a family visit."

"There is no such thing as a health condition that is not severe enough to require a family visit and according to international and Israeli laws, every patient has the right to see his family."

She also criticised the failure to move all the long-term hunger strikers to civilian hospitals.

"After 45 days, the fear always comes from sudden surprises like heart attacks or organ failure, so they need constant care and monitoring in a civilian hospital," she said.

The EU statement reiterated its opposition to Israel's use of administrative detention under which suspects can be held without charge indefinitely, for renewable periods of up to six months.

"Detainees have the right to be informed of the reasons for their detention and be subject to a fair trial without undue delay," the statement said.

"The EU is also following closely the ongoing hunger strike by several hundreds of Palestinian prisoners, and calls for the full respect of international human rights obligations towards all prisoners."

Three weeks ago, the hunger strikers were joined by another 1,200 detainees who began refusing food to demand better conditions. That number has now grown to approximately 1,600 prisoners.

The Palestinian cabinet in Ramallah on Tuesday called for the international community "to immediately intervene to rescue the prisoners... and force the Israeli government to respond to their just demands which form the minimum of their natural and humanitarian rights," a statement said.

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