Israel Denies Islamic Jihad Claims That Release of Palestinian Hunger Striker Was Part of Gaza Deal

Islamic Jihad demands the release of its senior member Bassam al-Saadi and hunger striker Khalil Awawdeh, but Israel says 'it has not committed to anything'

Jack Khoury
Jack Khoury
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This picture taken from the southern Israeli city of Ashkelon shows Palestinian rockets fired from the Gaza Strip on Sunday.
This picture taken from the southern Israeli city of Ashkelon shows Palestinian rockets fired from the Gaza Strip on Sunday.Credit: JACK GUEZ - AFP
Jack Khoury
Jack Khoury

"Prisoner Khalil Awawdeh will be released to a hospital within a few hours, and we are sure of that,"Islamic Jihad spokesperson Daoud Shihab said in an interview to Palestinian radio Ashams on Monday morning, as Israel denies that such a deal has been reached.

"Regarding the other prisoner Bassam al-Saadi, we are also sure of his release and even though we don't have a time frame, it will happen as soon as possible and within the next few hours, a UN delegation will visit the Sheik Saadi in prison," he added.

Earlier Monday, Public Security Minister Omer Bar Lev said to Israel public broadcaster Kan that Israel hasn't agreed to release any Islamic Jihad members from prison and added that Islamic Jihad commander Bassam al-Saadi will stay in jail, "like any prisoner."

"This is about him and another security prisoner, an administrative detainee," he said, referring to Khalil Awawdeh, "and like any security prisoner who is under administrative detention … Towards the end of the period, the Shin Bet decides whether to release him or extend his detention. And many times—most times—the Shin Bet extends the detention period."

Justice Minister Gideon Sa'ar echoed Bar Lev's comments and said even though Egypt did commit to act for the prisoners' release, Israel did not.

This comes a day after the Islamic Jihad's leader said that Israel had agreed to release a Palestinian hunger striker as part of an Egyptian-brokered cease-fire agreement to end three days of fighting that affected the Gaza Strip and southern Israel.

Bar-Lev emphasized that Israel "has not committed to anything" on the question of releasing Islamic Jihad-affiliated members from prison, whereas the Islamic Jihad claimed that Israel had agreed to immediately release Awawdeh, who has been on hunger strike for over 140 days over his administrative detention without trial, while the group claimed al-Saadi's release was up for discussion at a later stage.

Days of war: Understanding this weekend's Israel-Gaza flare-up

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The agreement, which both Israel and the Islamic Jihad confirmed, went into effect on Sunday at 11:30 PM. It was reached after Islamic Jihad agreed to stop firing rockets into Israel, who in turn agreed "to discuss" the militant group's demand to release two high-profile prisoners affiliated with the group, according to an Egyptian official involved in the talks.

One of the two prisoners, Bassam al-Saadi, was arrested by Israeli forces in Jenin last week, in a move that triggered the current outbreak of violence.

Khalil Awawdeh, the second prisoner whose release Islamic Jihad demands, is being held by Israel without charges and has been on a hunger strike since early July to protest his detention.

An official Egyptian statement said Cairo "is committed" to securing Awawdeh's release and providing him medical care, as well as Saadi's release "as soon as possible".

The Islamic Jihad's leader, Ziyad al-Nakhalah, said Awawdeh will be released as early as Monday. He is expected to be transferred to a hospital for medical treatment, and once he recovers he may return to his home in the West Bank.

There was no immediate comment from Israel.

Bassam al-Saadi.

Nakhala said the agreement "has no secret annexes," stressing it doesn't go beyond ceasing fire and the issue of the two prisoners.

Saadi, the 62-year-old head of the Islamic Jihad operations in the Jenin area, was arrested by Israeli security forces in his West Bank city. His arrest led to tension along the Gaza-Israel border, which was the catalyst to the current operation in the Gaza Strip.

He is considered as one of Islamic Jihad's top leaders in the West Bank. He had previously been detained by Israel three times and served a total of 15 years in an Israeli jail.

Two of Saadi's sons who were members of Islamic Jihad's military wing were killed by Israeli military fire in two separate incidents in 2002, during the second intifada.

According to the Shin Bet security service, Saadi recently worked "to restore the Islamic Jihad's operations, in which he was instrumental in establishing a strong military force in Samaria in general and in Jenin in particular. His presence played a crucial role in radicalizing the organization's operatives."

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