1,400 Palestinian prisoners in Israel to launch a hunger strike

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Nearly 1,400 Palestinians held in Israeli jails are about to go on hunger strike to protest their conditions of detention since a prison break last week, the Palestinian Authority said on Tuesday.

Tensions have been running high since six inmates staged a dramatic escape from a top-security prison in northern Israel on September 6, via a tunnel dug under a sink. Four of them have since been taken over.

Hundreds of their fellow inmates have been transferred to other prisons and personal items have been confiscated during searches by guards, according to the Palestinian Prisoners Club.

“The situation is very bad in the prisons, which is why they are going on a hunger strike,” Qadri Abu Bakr, head of the Palestinian Authority prisoners’ commission, told AFP.

He said 1,380 prisoners – out of more than 4,000 Palestinians held in Israeli jails – were due to start strike action on Friday, to be joined by other detainees next week.

Zakaria Zubeidi, a notorious Fatah terrorist recaptured after escaping from Gilboa prison with five other security prisoners, arrives for a hearing at Nazareth District Court on September 11, 2021 (David Cohen / Flash90)

Abu Bakr added that talks between Israeli prison authorities and prisoners’ representatives had made no progress so far.

Last week, the Palestinian Authority compared Israeli restrictions on prisoners to “Nazism.” The Palestinian Authority’s allegation, which is regularly accused of torturing detainees, came after Palestinian security prisoners revolted in a number of Israeli jails and burned down nine cells in Ketziot and Ramon prisons in southern Israel. Israeli forces intervened to quell the unrest.

The Red Cross said Israel decided to allow visits to prisoners after their suspension last week.

But Abu Bakr said he was concerned about the fate of the four recovered escapees, whom the Red Cross was not allowed to visit.

Palestinians attend a rally in solidarity for the escape of six Palestinian prisoners from the Israeli Gilboa prison on September 8, 2021, in Khan Yunis, southern Gaza Strip. (Abed Rahim Khatib / Flash90)

Palestinian lawyer Khaled Mahjana told AFP he would meet two of the four, Yaqub Qadri and Mohammad Ardah on Tuesday evening.

Abu Bakr also expressed fears for the health of another recaptured fugitive, terrorist commander Zakaria Zubeidi, after social media reported he was sent to hospital.

Prison officials said on Monday that he was still in detention and had not been hospitalized.

Zubeidi, a notorious commander of Fatah’s Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades terrorist group, was in prison on trial for two dozen crimes, including attempted murder.

Zakaria Zubeidi seen after being recaptured in northern Israel on September 11, 2021. (Courtesy)

Among Palestinians, the fugitives were widely viewed as “heroes” who managed to break free from several life sentences.

The manhunt continued on Tuesday for the two remaining prisoners: Iham Kamamji and Munadil Nafiyat, both members of the Islamic Jihad terrorist group.

Kamamji was serving a life sentence at the time of his escape, for killing an 18-year-old Israeli in 2006, a murder he is said to have expressed his pride in. Nafayat has not been charged with a crime. He was being held under the Israeli practice of administrative detention, which allows him to jail suspects without filing a complaint. Nonetheless, he was claimed to be a member of Islamic Jihad. Membership of the terrorist group is illegal under Israeli military law.

The six men escaped Gilboa prison before dawn last Monday, making their way through their cell’s drainage system and an empty space under the prison.

The escape revealed a series of failures in the prison, and Public Security Minister Omer Barlev said on Thursday he had decided to form a government commission to investigate the incident.

Among the apparent shortcomings were the inability to learn lessons from previous escape attempts and several operational errors, including unmanned watchtowers and sleeping guards.

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