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Shalabi’s exile is extension of incarceration: rights groups

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Hana Shalabi, held by Israel without charge was deported to the Gaza Strip on Sunday under a deal that ended her 44-day hunger strike.

Shalabi, of the Islamic Jihad militant group, arrived in Gaza before nightfall in an ambulance, after a tearful farewell with family members before she was deported, medics who escorted her said.

Shalabi, who met relatives on the Israeli side of Erez before entering Gaza, said “I am very happy to be in my country with my people,” but that the encounter with her family - from Jenin in the West Bank - was very difficult.

“I was shocked meeting my family, and they were shocked to see me,” she told the media on the Gaza side of Erez. “The meeting with my family was very difficult.”

Hana Shalabi was received in Gaza by approximately 100 people bearing her picture and calling out her name. Officials from the Islamic Jihad and Hamas movements were also there.

In a statement released on Sunday through her lawyer Jawad Bulus, Shalabi insisted she had agreed the deal voluntarily.

“To my dear family and my people and all the free people in the world, I thank you for your efforts and I appreciate everything you did for me and for the prisoners,” she said.

“I hope that you will understand my position and my decision, which was taken freely.”

“I chose to be transported to Gaza, which is half the homeland, and to be with my family and people there for three years,” she said.

“After that I will go back to my home in Jenin and to my family. I hope that my decision will be respected and that we will continue to support together those who are fighting their battles for the homeland and for the prisoners.”

Palestinian prisoners group Addameer and Israel's Physicians For Human Rights, both of which worked on Shalabi's case, expressed concern about the deal in a joint statement on Sunday.

They noted that their officials, as well as Shalabi's relatives, were denied access to her during the final days of her hunger strike.

They also warned that “aspects” of the deal “are fundamentally at odds with international law”.

“With no guarantees that she or her family will be permitted to travel, her expulsion could essentially become an extension of her previous isolation from her home and family while in prison.”

Palestinian officials in both the West Bank and Gaza voiced objections to Shalabi’s deportation.

Islamic Jihad leader Khader Habib, who waited to greet Shalabi at the Erez crossing, said his faction had not been consulted about the deal.

Hussein al-Sheikh, an official in President Mahmoud Abbas’s Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, said last week “we were not part of the deal and we reject deportations.”

Shalabi was put into administrative detention on Feb. 16. An Israeli military official said that in return for her release from jail, she had agreed to three years’ exile in the Gaza Strip.

A resident of the occupied West Bank, Shalabi went on hunger strike the day she was arrested, in protest at being held without trial. An Israeli official has said she was suspected of involvement in planned Islamic Jihad attacks.

She had been jailed previously by Israel and freed in October as part of a swap for Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier held captive in Hamas-ruled Gaza for more than five years.

Israel says it uses detention without trial to protect intelligence sources in any legal proceedings against a Palestinian suspect.

The measure has drawn criticism from human rights groups and the European Union.

Last month, Israel struck a deal with another member of Islamic Jihad, Khader Adnan, persuading him to end his 66-day fast, after assuring him that he would be released before his six-month “administrative detention” term was over.

At least another two-dozen Palestinian inmates remain on hunger strike in Israeli jails.