Israel seeks to end Palestinian prisoner’s hunger strike

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Palestinian and Israeli officials are seeking a compromise to end the hunger strike of a Palestinian prisoner whose on-off fast has lasted more than 250 days and stoked weeks of street protests.

Samer al-Issawi, a 32-year-old from an Arab suburb of Jerusalem, is receiving some nutrients via an intravenous drip but refusing food. His lawyer says his low heart rate means he could die at any time.

Moved from jail to an Israeli civilian hospital and under guard, an emaciated and bed-ridden Issawi has been approached in recent days by Israeli negotiators. Both Palestinian and Israeli officials hope to pre-empt the violence his death could provoke.

Israel has asked Issawi to stop his fast in exchange for commuting his decades-long sentence to one year behind bars, a Palestinian official told Reuters on Wednesday.

Issawi said he would accept only if the year-long term were backdated to the date of his arrest last July, according to Qadura Fares, head of the Palestinian prisoner organization.

“We don’t want to see this man commit suicide,” an Israeli official told Reuters. “There are elements on the Palestinian side who are eager to exploit a tragedy.”

Two Palestinian prisoners died in Israeli jails this year, raising the total number of Palestinians to have died in Israeli prison since 1948 to 207, a Palestinian official said.

Nine prisoners from the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, the Leftist faction to which Issawi belongs, announced on Wednesday an open-ended fast until he is freed.

“Prisoner Day,” an annual commemoration of Palestinian prisoners, who currently number 4,800, was held on Wednesday, with Israeli security forces on standby for possible protests.

The Palestinian Authority, based in Ramallah, has said it will try to prevent any mass uprising against Israel and has renounced violence in its quest for statehood.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is keen to give US President Barack Obama a chance to renew stalled Israeli-Palestinian talks after his visit to the region last month.

Palestinian officials have made an offer, not accepted by Israel, that Issawi be immediately released to Ramallah to receive a year of medical treatment after which Israel would allow him to return to neighboring Jerusalem.

Israel convicted Issawi of opening fire on an Israeli bus in 2002, but released him in 2011 along with over 1,000 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for an Israeli soldier held hostage by the Hamas Islamist group in Gaza.

He was re-arrested last July after Israel said he violated the terms of his release by crossing from his native East Jerusalem to the West Bank, both majority-Palestinian areas, and ordered him to stay in jail until 2029 - his original sentence.

In an open letter to the European Union published Thursday, top Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said he would hold Israel and the international community responsible if Issawi perished, blasting Israel’s re-arrest of Issawi as unfair.

His bail terms had “denied him the right to move a few kilometres from one part of his country to another part of it. Such is the absurdity and injustice of Israel’s obsession with controlling Palestinian lives,” Erekat wrote.

United Nations and European Union officials have expressed concern to Israel over Issawi’s case.

Israel has said it would be willing to deport Issawi to an EU or UN member state. The idea has been rejected by Issawi himself, and an Israeli official said neither the European Union nor the United Nations had responded.

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