Some 2,000 Palestinian prisoners on hunger strike continued to refuse food this week as seven of them are said to be “close to death.” Around 1,600 have been on strike for their third week in a row. Thaer Halahleh and Bilal Thiab have been on strike since February 29 with an Israeli prison physician saying Halahleh could die at any moment, according to his lawyer Mona Neddaf on May 10.
Neddaf visited the 33-year old prisoner in the Ramleh prison clinic and reported back saying that Halahleh is vomiting blood, bleeding from his gums and lips and has extremely low blood pressure in addition to having an infection which is causing his temperature to fluctuate.
On May 8, Halahla said in a letter that he had no plans to back down from the strike despite his deteriorating medical condition. “We did not go into the battle because we love to be hungry or in pain, but for our dignity and the dignity of our nation,” he wrote.
After Israeli Prison Services refused to meet even the minimum ceiling of prisoner demands, hundreds of prisoners announced on May 11 that they would refuse vitamin supplements and prison clinics in an escalation of their mass protest.
“We swear we will not retreat. Either we live in dignity or die,” read a letter smuggled out of prisons by the strike’s organizers.
Israel continues to refuse to transfer Diab and Halahleh to hospital after 73 days on hunger strike, said the Prisoners Society on May 11, adding that Israeli authorities refused to allow the society’s lawyer to visit them a day earlier. On May 7, the Israel High Court rejected an appeal to end the two men’s administrative detention, a decision the Islamic Jihad said was like “signing a death sentence” for the two men.
Israeli Prison Service spokeswoman Sivan Weizman defended the decision not to transfer hunger strikers to civilian hospitals, saying the detainees would be hospitalized “if it is necessary.”
International as well as Palestinian calls have grown louder over the week for the release or fair treatment of the prisoners. The International Committee for the Red Cross warned on May 7 that Halahleh, Diab and four other long-term hunger strikers were in “imminent danger of dying” and called on Israel to transfer them to hospital.
The World Health Organization also called on Israel to provide medical attention to prisoners, one who is suffering from Thalassemia.
On May 9, UN chief Ban Ki-moon called on Israel to either charge or free Palestinian detainees immediately.”(Ban) reiterates that those detained must be charged and face trial with judicial guarantees, or released without delay,” read a statement issued through his spokesman Martin Nesirky.
President Mahmoud Abbas also warned on May 8 that “the death of any one of the hundreds of prisoners on hunger strike in Israel would be a disaster”, saying this could trigger a backlash of uncontrollable proportions. “This is very dangerous,” he said during a visit to a solidarity tent for prisoners in Al Bireh, also saying that the leadership would “not remain silent should any harm come to the nation’s imprisoned sons.
The Islamic Jihad was not nearly as diplomatic. On May 6, one of is top leaders Mohammad Al-Hindi said that the death of any prisoner on hunger strike would start the third intifada. The movement earlier warned Israel that if a prisoner dies, the calm in Gaza would be over immediately.
Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister was busy cooking up a political storm that took the world by surprise. On May 8, he announced that he, as the premier and Likud Party leader and Kadima leader Shaul Mofaz had agreed to form a broad based coalition government, thus avoiding early elections, which he had earlier announced for September. The coalition is the broadest in Israeli history, allowing for a 94 seat majority in Knesset.
A day later, President Abbas says he would be willing to work with Netanyahu on a peace plan – mostly in response to the stipulation in the Kadima-Likud agreement necessitating the return to peace talks – as long as the Israeli leader “offers something positive and promising.” Abbas maintained however that settlements must stop before this could happen.
Abbas and his premier Salam Fayyad were busy with their own cabinet reshuffle, which is expected to be announced within the week. Unofficial reports have spoken about ministry changes such as offering the finance ministry to Nabil Qassis, but nothing has been confirmed. Apparently, the reshuffle will bring in some new faces while saying goodbye to others. Some ministry such as the interior, foreign and Waqf ministries are reportedly to stay the same. The President stressed that any new cabinet would not stand in the way of a reconciliation agreement with Hamas or plans to form a national unity government when the other side is ready.
Hamas meanwhile, is staving off rumors that it is trying to maintain the calm in Gaza by preventing rocket fire from there.
On May 10, Israeli newspaper Haaretz ran a story saying that the Hamas government in Gaza has been operating a force over the past few months with the sole task of preventing rocket firing into Israel.
According to the report, the 300-man force was under the direct command of de facto Interior Minister in Gaza Fathi Hammad, saying it operated 24 hours a day, especially near the borders with Israel.
Hamas has vehemently denied the report. Hamas’ Interior minister spokesperson Ihab Ghussein, insisted that the government in Gaza was a “resistance government,” saying the report was “only propaganda or rumors.”
“The occupation government attempts to cover up its crimes against the Palestinian prisoners, and to direct threats against Gaza,” he said, adding that “the Palestinian government is a resistance government that came (about) to protect the resistance.”
In the West Bank, Palestinian security services said on May 10 that they had arrested the perpetrators of a shooting attack on the home of late Jenin governor, Qaddoura Mousa.
Spokesperson for the security services, Adnan Dmeiri said they had uncovered the circumstances of the shooting and detained the gunmen, adding that investigations were ongoing.