Detainees Protest Harsh Conditions at Ketsiot Prison

Hundreds of Palestinians detainees have launched protest action in the Ketsiot military prison after frequent clashes with prison authorities.

In the process of a confrontation last week, numerous tents burnt down, and 14 prisoners and two wardens were injured.

Human rights activists and military sources believe tension in the prison is rising and could lead to serious rioting.

Some 1,000 detainees, 80 percent of them administrative who have yet to be charged, are being held in Ketsiot. The Negev facility reopened in April to absorb some of the Palestinians apprehended in Operation Defensive Shield.

The detainees have been complaining for a long time about the harsh treatment they have received and the difficult conditions under which they are living: the prison is extremely crowded, there is no hot water or regular supply of electricity, and their families have not been allowed to visit.

In addition, the detainees have been complaining about the procedure of extending administrative custody. In many cases, the detainee is told only at the last moment, before the end of his custody, that the IDF and Shin Bet intend to extend it further.

Last week's confrontation erupted following the decision to transfer three detainees from Ketsiot to Nafha prison. The IDF Spokesman said at the time that the detainees began rioting in protest and set fire to tents, and military policemen dispersed them with tear gas and stun grenades.

But the detainees said the three who had refused to move to Nafha prison changed their mind when they saw the military policemen preparing to quash the protest. Despite this, prison authorities ordered the soldiers to shoot tear gas and stun grenades at the detainees. As a result, the tents caught fire, endangering the lives of some detainees.

The detainees called by cellular phone attorney Tamar Peleg, who represents a number of them, telling her that this week they had asked to hold a quiet protest against the prison authorities' conduct. But the prison commander, colonel Yuri, threatened to open fire on them even if they held a non-violent protest.

A senior source said in reaction that Yuri was referring to the possibility that the detainees try to topple the fence surrounding the tent compound. In this case the wardens life would be at risk and only then may they open fire, he said.

The detainees' grievances are listed in a letter distributed by the Palestinian human rights organization Adamir. The detainees are demanding an external inquiry commission to examine events in the prison, especially the violent suppression of last week's protest. As part of their protest, the detainees are refusing to rebuild the block where the tents had burned down.

Human rights associations yesterday demanded the IDF permit them to hold an urgent visit in the prison to look into the situation. Military sources admitted the tension in Ketsiot is high and on the verge of confrontation.