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Middle East

Palestinians clash with Israeli authorities after cancer death of high-profile prisoner refused early release on health grounds

Palestinian officials blame Israel for providing insufficient care for Maysara Abu Hamdiyeh

Clashes broke out between Palestinians and Israeli security forces in Hebron and in prisons earlier today after the death of a high-profile inmate from cancer.

Palestinian officials blamed Israel for providing insufficient care for Maysara Abu Hamdiyeh, who was diagnosed with cancer of the oesophagus earlier this year – prison officials had requested early release on the grounds of ill health when his cancer was declared terminal last week, but the request was not heard in time.

His death prompted demonstrations in a number of prisons, with police firing tear gas into cell blocks after detainees began banging on doors and throwing objects after learning of the 64 year-old’s demise.

At a meeting in Ramallah, the Palestinian administrative capital, President Mahmoud Abbas said: “We were surprised with the death of our brother prisoner. We attempted to have him released and take him for treatment, but the Israeli government refused to release him, which led to his death.”

Ahmed Tibi, an Arab-Israeli politician, also blamed the Israelis for the death: “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.”

Abu Hamdiyeh was jailed in 2002 after being convicted of attempted murder. He was also found to be a member of Hamas and of being in possession of weapons.

Israeli public services have largely reopened today after the Passover holiday. Prisons Authority spokeswoman Sivan Weizman said Abu Hamdiyeh was treated well by specialist doctors and died in a hospital in Beersheba, in southern Israel, but confirmed that an appeal to have Abu Hamdiyeh released on medical grounds was not heard in time. Ms Weizman added that three prisoners and six guards were evacuated from prisons for medical treatment following the disturbances.

The issue of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails is hugely contentious. A number are on hunger strike to protest at their incarceration.

Palestinian prisoner affairs minister, Issa Karakeh, said that, “this is a serious, ugly crime committed against the prisoner Maysara due to medical negligence and reluctance to release him.” A three-day hunger strike was called among security prisoners in protest at the death.

The prison protests later spread to the flashpoint town of Hebron, where demonstrators clashed with police – who used to teargas to disperse crowds.

Abu Hamdiyeh’s son told the Palestinian press that his family were demanding that a post mortem be carried out by Palestinian doctors after the body is returned to the family tomorrow.