Jailed Palestinian Soccer Player Takes First Steps Toward Ending Hunger Strike

Mahmoud al-Sarsak, 25, who began fasting on March 19, has resumed drinking milk, said Issa Qarari, Palestinian Minister for Prisoners' Affairs.

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A Palestinian soccer player who was jailed in Israel without trial, under a special law, has taken his first steps toward ending an 83-day hunger strike, Palestinian officials and doctors said on Wednesday.

Mahmoud al-Sarsak, 25, who began fasting on March 19, has resumed drinking milk, said Issa Qarari, Palestinian Minister for Prisoners' Affairs.

Anat Litvin of Human Rights-Israel added that al-Sarsak, who is from the Rafah refugee camp in the Gaza Strip, began drinking milk after meeting Israeli officials late Sunday.

The Palestinian Prisoners Club, an organization looking after the welfare of Palestinians in Israeli jails, said it was possible that al-Sarsak - who Israel accuses of being affiliated with the radical Islamic Jihad organization - would be released early July.

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.

A Palestinian man demonstrating outside the Ofer military prison earlier this week.Credit: AP



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