Protesters hold signs in support of Palestinian prisoner Mahmoud Sarsak.
Protesters hold signs in support of Palestinian prisoner Mahmoud Sarsak. Photo by AP
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Israel has released a member of the Palestinian national soccer team who lobbied for his freedom with a hunger strike of more than three months.

Mahmoud Sarsak greeted well-wishers in his native Gaza on Tuesday after three years in Israeli custody without charges or trial. Israel has accused Sarsak of being active in the violent group Islamic Jihad, a claim he has denied.

During his hunger strike, the 25-year-old athlete shed nearly half his weight. He ended the fast last month as part of a deal for his release. International sports organizations had sought his release.

At a Gaza hospital, he emerged from an ambulance and kissed his parents and siblings.

Israel had said earlier that he was to be released Tuesday.

Al-Sarsak was arrested at the Gaza border crossing on July 22, 2009, while on his way to take part in a soccer match in the West Bank. He was a member of the Palestinian national side at the time of his arrest.

FIFA President Sepp Blatter expressed "grave concern" over what he called "the alleged illegal detention" of Palestinian soccer players, the world soccer body said in a statement.

He had written to the Israeli Football Association to ask it to draw the attention of Israeli authorities to the matter, the statement continued.

Al-Sarsak, who received on-off intravenous drips throughout his fast, rejected a May 14 deal which ended a mass month-long hunger strike by Palestinian prisoners.

He insisted on being given prisoner-of-war status, since he was detained under Israel's Unlawful Combatants Law, which allows for Palestinians from Gaza to be detained for an unlimited amount of time without charge or trial.

The law authorizes the state to detain foreign nationals who belong to terrorist organizations or who have participated directly or indirectly in hostile actions against the State of Israel.

Al-Sarsak also rejected an Israeli offer to exile him to Norway for three months.

Prison Services spokeswoman Sivan Weizman said Wednesday that al-Sarsak was being treated in the medical facility of Ramle Prison, southeast of Tel Aviv.

Litvin told DPA that his health was in danger, and demanded he be transferred to a civilian medical facility.