Hamas Prisoners to Stage Hunger Strike Today

Palestinian prisoners to protest transfer of at least seven senior Hamas officials to solitary confinement, one of which suffers from serious health problems, according to Hamas.

prisoner - Tomer Appelbaum - November 1 2010
A prisoner. Safadi was one of six lawyers indicted for passing messages from prisoners to Hamas activists. Tomer Appelbaum

All Hamas inmates in Israeli prisons will stage a hunger strike today to protest "the stiffening of the isolation policy against the organization's commanders," the group's Prisoner Affairs Ministry says.

Ministry spokesman Riyad al-Ashkar said yesterday the hunger strike is geared to win the release of Yihyeh Sanwar, considered the highest-ranking Hamas operative in Israeli prison. Askhar said Sanwar suffers from serious health problems.

prisoner - Tomer Appelbaum - November 1 2010
Tomer Appelbaum

Hamas added that a number of its leaders in Israeli prison have been moved to solitary confinement.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, meanwhile, said Israel had accepted a deal brokered by a German mediator to free captured soldier Gilad Shalit, but Hamas has yet to state its position on the proposal.

But Hamas' Gaza spokesman, Sami Abu Zuhri, said "Netanyahu is a liar .... We don't have a clue about what Netanyahu is talking about. There is nothing new in the prisoner exchange deal, and Netanyahu is just lying."

After Netanyahu made his statement yesterday about Israel accepting the German mediator's proposal, Interior Minister Eli Yishai said that "as long as Gilad Shalit is not here, we have failed." According to Yishai, "It would have been better to conclude the negotiations more quickly. Shalit should be returned healthy and whole, and the sooner the better. The price [for Shalit's release] is high, and not simple. A huge effort should be made so that the price becomes more reasonable."

Qadura Fares, head of the Palestinian prisoner society, was similarly skeptical about Netanyahu's statements on the revocation of certain privileges for Palestinian detainees. "Netanyahu's statements on the annulment of prisoner privileges are one big lie," he said. "The sanctions he is talking about have been in place for a long time."

Fares said that "for years, the Israel Prison Service has not allowed high school matriculation studies, and it's clear that anyone who lacks a high school diploma cannot complete academic studies with the Open University."

According to Fares, "Netanyahu is a liar and he is misleading the Shalit family and the Israeli public. He has failed to return Gilad, and he has no response to the Palestinian position regarding the release of inmates. So he is pretending that he is putting new forms of pressure on the prisoners. Such steps have no use, and they won't provide any leverage to pressure Hamas and the prisoners themselves."

Shalit's family announced yesterday that it is stepping up its campaign for his release. The drive is expected to include three main components: declaring Netanyahu personally responsible for the soldier's fate; expanding the media campaign to include appearances by former high-ranking members of the Mossad, Shin Bet security service and Israel Defense Forces; and appeals to the Israeli public to send text messages in a mock referendum in favor of accepting the prisoner swap deal for Shalit's release.

At a press conference yesterday, Shalit's parents, Noam and Aviva Shalit, outlined details of the new campaign, to be called "a referendum to save Gilad." Retired security officials to take part in the campaign include Ami Ayalon, Jacob Perry and Amnon Lipkin-Shahak. They will stress that the current terms for Shalit's release are acceptable and that the deal should be carried out.

The Shalit family is calling on the public to support a deal in which 450 imprisoned terrorists, convicted of violent attacks, would be released, along with 550 prisoners of Israel's choice. Details on subsequent stages in the campaign will be made public in the coming days.