Palestinian Issawi may extend hunger strike, despite release date

Reuters , Thursday 21 Feb 2013

Palestinian hunger striker Samer Issawi, who faces an imprisonment sentence of eight months, will continue his protest, according to the head of the Palestinian Prisoners Club

A hunger-striking Palestinian jailed by Israel will likely continue his protest because he does not know when he will be freed, despite a court's annoucement that his sentence will end in two weeks time, a Palestinian official said on Thursday.

Samer al-Issawi, who has been on intermittent hunger strike for over 200 days, was sentenced by an Israeli military court in 2002 to 26 years in jail after it found him guilty of attempting to kill civilians in shooting attacks, and other counts.

He was released in a prisoner swap deal in 2011 but was arrested in July on charges of breaking the terms of his early release and was convicted by a civilian court in Jerusalem.

On Thursday the court sentenced him to an eight-month term back-dated to his arrest, and his sentence will end on March 6.

But a Palestinian official with knowledge of the case said it was far from certain that Issawi would be freed on that date because Israel's military judicial authority wants him back in jail for what it considers violations of the terms of his release.

"This decision (by the civilian court) does not change (Issawi's) situation and doesn't mean that he will be released in March," Qadoura Fares, head of the Palestinian Prisoners Club, told Reuters.

Issawi was among 14 Palestinians re-arrested after the 2011 prisoner swap due to what Israel called breaking the terms of their release. Two, including Issawi, are currently listed as being on hunger strike.

Two others are fasting in protest at their "administrative detention," a policy by which Israel jails Palestinians without trial based on evidence presented in a closed military court.

Israel says the practice pre-empts militant attacks against it while keeping its counter-intelligence sources and tactics secret.

An Israeli security source said the hunger strike protests were themselves a violation of the prisoners' terms of release.

"The use of hunger strikes by prisoners is a clear violation of the commitment signed by the prisoners' leadership, both inside and outside prison, in May 2011," said the source, who declined to be identified.

Palestinian protesters have said they fear for the life of Issawi and the three other hunger strikers. Their cases have been at the centre of intensified clashes with Israeli soldiers throughout the Israeli-occupied West Bank in the past few weeks.

On Thursday, Israeli forces fired tear gas and rubber bullets at hundreds of stone-throwing Palestinian protesters near a West Bank prison. Several people, including troops, demonstrators and two Israeli journalists were injured.

Issawi was one of over 1,000 prisoners freed in 2011 in exchange for Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, who was abducted by Gaza militants in a cross-border raid in 2006.

Nearly 5,000 Palestinians are held in Israeli jails, many charged with involvement in attacks on Israelis.

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