A 64-year-old Palestinian security prisoner died of on Tuesday morning at the Soroka Medical Center in Be'er Sheva, sparking clashes in Hebron between protesters and Israeli security forces and the declaration of a three-day hunger strikeby other Palestinians jailed in Israel. Security was beefed up in prisons in case of further unrest.
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Maysara Abuhamdieh, from Hebron, had been serving a life sentence since 2002 for attempted murder, membership in Hamas and weapons possession.
After being diagnosed with cancer of the esophagus in February, Abuhamdieh was under the medical care in Be'er Sheva. A week ago, after his condition was judged to be terminal, the Israel Prisons Service initiated an early release request for Abuhamdieh, who died before for the request could be processed.
The defense establishment is concerned that Abuhamdieh's death could spur further unrest in the West Bank, particularly in light of the fact that it occurred less than two weeks before Palestinian Prisoners Day, which has become an annual event that is marked on April 17. Last year 1,200 Palestinians being held in Israeli prisons declared a hunger strike.
Abuhamdieh's body will undergo an autopsy on Tuesday evening at Soroka Medical Center to determine the cause of death. His funeral will take place Wednesday as planned.
The Palestinian Prisoners' Committee has blamed Israel for Abuhamdieh's death, accusing authorities in a press release Tuesday of delays and negligence in diagnosing his condition and administering appropriate treatment.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas cast the blame on Israel on Tuesday morning for Abuhamdieh's death. "The Israeli refusal to address our appeals to release Abuhamdieh led to a deterioration in his condition," Abbas said at Fatah's central committee meeting in Rammallah. "We turned to many countries and to the international community to act on behalf of the Palestinian prisoners but Israel did not sway from its position."
The Israeli Prime Minister's Office went on the offensive following Abbas's comments. Ofir Gendelman, a spokesperson for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, told Arab press that the PA is trying to exploit the prisoner's death in order to escalate tensions in the West Bank.
"The Palestinian detainees imprisoned in Israel receive excellent medical attention and are visited by the Red Cross whereas inmates in PA prisons receive nothing," Gendelman said on his twitter account, which also acts as the official handle of the PMO. "The PA will be responsible for the consequences of this hypocritical move," he added.
Abuhamdieh's son, Tareq, told a Palestinian news agency that the family is demanding an autopsy by Palestinian experts to determine the cause of the death.
The date for a funeral has yet to be announced. However, Abuhamdieh's body is expected to be delivered to his family Wednesday afternoon and the funeral will be held afterward.
MK Ahmed Tibi (United Arab List-Ta’al) said Tuesday morning that "the Israeli government is legally and morally responsible for the death of the prisoner. The authorities refused to release him even after he was in a terminal health condition and undergoing chemotherapy."
"The authorities in Israel have routinely released Jewish prisoners over minor coughing fits and in this case someone deliberately decided to seal [the prisoner's] fate," Tibi continued. He also asked why no medical authority in the Prison Service recommended releasing Abuhamdieh even though he was suffering from severe cancer. "It proves that some of the doctors working for the Prison Service are agents of oppression and not medical treatment."
Two weeks, another Palestinian prisoner, Younis al-Hroub, who is on hunger strike, was admitted to Soroka after his health deteriorated. Doctors say his condition is now stable.
In February Arafat Jaradat, a 30-year-old Palestinian prisoner, died of a heart attack in Megiddo Prison. Other inmates claimed that he was in good health and that his death was the result of torture while in prison at the hands of Israeli security forces. Poisoning and torture were ruled out as causes of death in Jaradat's autopsy. Jaradat's death led to riots in the vicinity of his home village of Sa'ir, near Hebron, where he lived. Security prisoners in Israel's Ofer Prison also rioted.