Palestinians’ protests over prisoners’ deaths turn violent

Israel’s Defence Minister Moshe Ya’alon has signalled his intention of making liberal use of force if peaceful protests over the situation of prisoners languishing in Israeli jails acquires a military edge.

Israeli warplanes on Tuesday attacked “two extensive terror sites”, said a military statement. The strikes, which did not cause any casualties, followed a third Palestinian cross-border rocket attack over past two days. Sirens blew over the Israeli town of Sderot warning of attacks.

A new wave of Palestinian anger that has been brewing for some months seemed to have spiked following the death from cancer of Maisara Abu Hamdiyeh (64) — a Palestinian prisoner serving a life sentence in an Israeli jail for attempted murder.


The death,announced on Tuesday, apparently triggered the first rocket attack. Diagnosed with throat cancer two months ago, he had sought early release. However, he died before the paper-work could be completed. Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas blamed the death on Israel.

“The death of Maisara Abu Hamdiyeh shows the Israeli government’s arrogance and intransigence over the prisoners,” said Mr. Abbas. “We tried to get him released for treatment but the Israeli government refused to let him out, which led to his death.”

Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad called for an international commission of inquiry into the death. A retired general in the Palestinian Authority and a resident of the West Bank, Abu Hamdiyeh was jailed in 2002 for sending a suicide bomber into a Jerusalem café. However, the bomb had failed to explode. He is the second Palestinian prisoner to die in Israeli jails over the last two months.

Earlier, Arafat Jaradat (30) — another inmate from the West Bank — had died in prison four days after his arrest in February. Palestinians attributed his death to torture during interrogation — a charge that Israeli officials denied, claiming that he had died of a heart attack.

Abu Hamdiyeh’s death has ignited deep seated anger among Palestinians over the conditions of prisoners who are stranded in Israeli jails.

The prolonged hunger strike of Samer Issawi since August last has caught the imagination of the Palestinians, triggering a spate of street protests, which have brought into focus the Israeli practice of “administrative detention” — of keeping inmates in jail without trial on security grounds.

Harsh language

Mr. Yaalon’s muscle flexing was apparent in the harsh language that he used in his statements. “We will not allow shooting of any sort [even sporadic] towards our citizens and our forces,” said the former army chief.

He said the Hamas was responsible for any fire from Gaza, the stronghold of the militant group. In the same way, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government was to be held responsible for the firing that came from the Golan Heights.

“In the Golan Heights, our policy is that we have no intention of allowing a daily routine of firing from Syria towards Israeli territory, whether it is stray fire or not, and we will respond to that with a firm hand,” Mr. Yaalon warned.

“The moment we identify the source of the fire, we will destroy it without any hesitation, as we did last night,” he said.

“The Syrian regime is responsible for whatever happens on its territory, and we will not allow a situation in which fire leaks into Israeli territory without a response.”

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