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Palestinians to strike as cancer patient’s jail death blamed on Israel

Published: Updated:

A day of mourning and a general strike will be held in the Palestinian territories on Wednesday over the death of a Palestinian prisoner in an Israeli jail who was suffering from throat cancer.

The death of Maisara Abu Hamdiyeh, a 63-year-old from Hebron, raised temperatures over the tinderbox issue of Palestinians in Israeli jails.

Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas on Tuesday blamed Israel for the death, saying officials had refused to grant him an early release.

“The death of Maisara Abu Hamdiyeh shows the Israeli government’s arrogance and intransigence over the prisoners,” Abbas said.

“We tried to get him released for treatment but the Israeli government refused to let him out, which led to his death.”

The Palestine Liberation Organization has warned that more terminally ill prisoners in Israeli jails could die, as well as some of the hunger strikers.

Abbas spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeina blamed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s administration, while Palestinian premier Salam Fayyad called for an international commission of inquiry.

Gaza’s ruling Hamas warned Israel would “regret its continuing crimes”, raising fears of renewed conflict after a deadly eight-day confrontation between Israel and Hamas militants in November.

On Tuesday evening, militants in the Gaza Strip fired a rocket into southern Israel, but it fell on open ground and caused no casualties, police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said.

Early Wednesday the Israeli air force staged three apparent warning strikes in the Gaza Strip, hitting empty fields, Palestinian security sources told AFP.

They said the strikes, the first since November’s conflict, hit in two spots close to Gaza City and one other site further north toward the frontier with Israel. No one was injured.

The Israeli military said in a statement that the air force staged only two strikes, and that they were “in response to several rocket fire incidents directed at Israel”.

News of Abu Hamdiyeh’s death sparked Palestinian protests in prisons across Israel and clashes with the Israeli army in Hebron, where some 300 demonstrators threw stones at troops near the entrance to the Old City and soldiers fired tear gas and rubber bullets.

In Jerusalem’s Old City, police arrested nine people at Damascus Gate after about 50 Palestinians hurled stones and bottles at officers, police spokesman Rosenfeld said, adding that police had fired stun grenades to disperse the rally.

The Israel Prisons Service (IPS) said Abu Hamdiyeh, a senior Fatah official from the preventative security services, had been diagnosed with cancer of the oesophagus in February, and was being treated by experts.

“About a week ago, after being diagnosed as terminal, the IPS appealed to the release committee to secure his early release, a process which had been started but not yet concluded,” said a statement.

It said he was serving a life sentence for his involvement as a recruiter and dispatcher in an attempted attack in Jerusalem in 2002.

Abu Hamdiyeh, who had served more than a decade of his sentence, died at Soroka hospital in the southern Israeli city of Beersheva, sources on both sides said.

The issue of Palestinians in Israeli prisons is deeply sensitive and often sparks mass demonstrations across the occupied territories, which tend to turn into violent clashes with the military.

One of the main points of concern is prisoners on long-term hunger strike who are held without charge.