Palestinian ends hunger strike in Israeli jail

Apr 23, 2013, 10:09 AM EDT
In this Monday, April 22, 2013 photo, people hold posters showing Palestinian prisoner on a hunger strike Samer Issawi outside a hospital in Rehovot, Israel. Issawi, who refused food for months, is expected to end his hunger strike on Tuesday after a deal was reached with Israeli authorities for his early release, his lawyer said.(AP Photo/Mahmoud Illean)
(AP Photo/Mahmoud Illean)

JERUSALEM (AP) — A Palestinian prisoner who refused food for eight months ended his hunger strike on Tuesday after reaching a deal with Israeli for early release, his lawyer and the military said.

Samer Issawi began refusing food in August to protest his re-arrest last July. The 33-year-old Issawi became a symbol of the Palestinian struggle against Israel, and some demonstrations over his case turned violent.

Attorney Jawad Bulous said Israeli military prosecutors agreed to release Issawi after he serves another eight months.

The lawyer said Issawi ended his hunger strike in the presence of his sister and uncle. The Israeli military confirmed the deal but had no further details.

Issawi was sentenced in 2002 to 26 years in prison for his role in a series of shooting attacks targeting police cars and students at Jerusalem's Hebrew University. He was released as part of a 2011 deal that freed hundreds of Palestinians — many of them militants involved in deadly attacks — in exchange for an Israeli soldier held in Gaza for five years.

Under the terms of the prisoner exchange, Issawi was banned from entering the West Bank but travelled there three times. He also tried to persuade a witness to lie to Israeli security forces about his location, but he later confessed to violating the terms of his release, said another lawyer, who has overseen the case. That attorney spoke on condition of anonymity because he did not want to be seen as contradicting Issawi's supporters.

He said security forces accused Issawi of planning to kidnap Israeli soldiers and trying to amass weapons, but he was not charged with those offenses. After he was arrested again, he was expected to serve the rest of his original sentence — another 15 years.

Issawi was hospitalized in recent weeks as his health deteriorated. To pressure Israeli authorities to come to a deal, Issawi refused infusions of vitamins and minerals, his attorney said.

"No doubt, this is a big victory for Samer," Bulous said. The hunger strike "forced the Israeli side to reverse their position."

The prisoner issue is sensitive for Palestinians, many of whom have had a relative behind bars. There are some 4,500 Palestinians in Israel jails for sentences ranging from throwing stones to killing civilians, according to figures from Israeli prison authorities in February.

Palestinians see the prisoners as heroes in their struggle for statehood. Israelis view them as terrorists.

Over the past years, the prisoners have turned to hunger strikes to pressure Israel for better conditions, to try end indefinite detention without charge and to end sentences they see as unjust.

Also Tuesday, Israeli forces demolished some 20 tin shacks and animal pens belonging to semi-nomadic Palestinian communities in the northern West Bank, the U.N. said.

Israeli officials routinely say that the flimsy tin houses are in a military firing zone. Palestinians say the area has been their traditional home and grazing for at least a generation.

After the demolitions, a 46-year-old woman sat with her week-old grandchild in the shade near her destroyed shack.

"We will rebuild it," said her mother who gave her name as Umm Ayman. "We've got nowhere else to go."

An Israeli military official said he was looking into the matter.


AP writer Ian Deitch contributed to this report.


Follow Hadid on