Relatives let into Israelis' jail of death

Robert Fisk reports on Khiam prison, in southern Lebanon, where many inmates are held in underground cells

The gates of Israel's notorious Khiam jail in southern Lebanon have swung briefly open to allow a handful of Shia Muslim prisoners to see their families for the first time in 10 years. The Israeli decision to allow family visits - co-ordinated by the International Red Cross - came after the death of yet another Lebanese inmate, who had spent a decade in the prison without trial. Haitham Dabaja, 28, died in Marjayoun hospital - three miles from the prison inside Israel's occupation zone - although the authorities there have refused to comment.

In December two prisoners from Khiam - Salim Awada and Ali al-Goul - died in Beirut within days of their release. Another freed prisoner, Mustapha Ramadan, said 80 per cent of Khiam inmates suffered from cardiac and nervous disorders because of the humidity in their cells, many of which are underground. Mr Ramadan had just spent six years in detention and was released on grounds of "ill-health" - he was 85. This week's visitors included a girl of nine who had never seen her father. She was not allowed to embrace him but had to see him through a glass screen. About 260 Lebanese prisoners, including women and several youths of 14, are held at Khiam; Israel has hitherto refused to allow the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to visit the jail, whose inmates have given consistent accounts of electrical torture by Lebanese militiamen paid and armed by the Israelis.

It now seems likely the ICRC will at last be allowed to inspect the prison; the Israelis have agreed that 20 prisoners a week may be visited by their families. The change follows a growing - if tardy - realisation by Israel that its policy of isolating prisoners in harsh conditions in the hope of preventing further attacks on its occupation troops in southern Lebanon has failed.

Amnesty International has accused the Khiam authorities of using electricity to extract information from newly-arrived inmates. Some prisoners were captured during attacks on Israeli troops and their militia allies in the occupation zone; others are friends or relatives of men the Israelis believe to have been involved in the ``Islamic Resistance'' movement.

Yet UN officers in southern Lebanon say fewer prisoners are being taken by the Israelis after attacks on their occupation forces. Lebanese and Palestinian guerrillas believe Israeli and ``South Lebanon Army'' militiamen now routinely kill all attackers when they surrender. SLA men were seen shooting a prisoner near Shebaa last year, which prompted a protest to Israel by the United Nations commander in southern Lebanon. Last month seven members of the pro-Iranian Hizbollah and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command - in the first open joint attack of its kind - were killed during an ambush on an Israeli convoy. A day later, it emerged that three more guerrillas in a second Hizbollah-PFLP-GC attack had all been killed in southern Lebanon.

Israel has in the past promised to release some or all of the Khiam prisoners in return for captured SLA men and its own missing air force navigator, Ron Arad, who was captured after a bombing raid on Sidon in 1986, but the Hizbollah - his presumed captors - have shown no interest in such a swap. The ICRC is now also allowed to visit all but two of the 70 Lebanese prisoners held inside Israel itself; they have not yet been given access to Sheikh Abdul Karim Obeid and Mustapha Dirani, both kidnapped by Israeli soldiers in Lebanon. Mr Dirani was Mr Arad's original captor.

Even before the Red Cross visits, details of life in Israeli jails have leaked out whenever inmates are freed. Lebanese prisoners have arrived in Beirut with extraordinary accounts of the conditions in which they have been held. In Ashkelon jail, for example, secular and Islamist prisoners from the PFLP, the Democratic Front, Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Fatah - some in near-open conflict with each other in the occupied West Bank and Gaza - have formed a prisoner Revolutionary Committee and elected a joint leadership to negotiate with the Israelis for better conditions.

This system was recognised by the Israelis almost 10 years ago, when the head of the prison administration there, Rafi Suissa, negotiated with Palestinian inmates after a food strike. Freed prisoners say he was later sacked but that Palestinians at Ashkelon later heard that prisoners in other Israeli jails were allowed to watch three hours of television a day - and returned to their hunger strike until their own privileges were ``matched'' with those at other prisons.

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Dunham
booksLena Dunham's memoirs - written at the age of 28 - are honest to the point of making you squirm
Jacqueline Bisset has claimed that young women today are obsessed with being 'hot', rather than 'charming', 'romantic' or 'beautiful'
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey
tvDownton Abbey review: It's six months since we last caught up with the Crawley clan
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Frank Lampard and his non-celebration
premier leagueManchester City vs Chelsea match report from the Etihad Stadium
Life and Style
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
techNew app offers 'PG alternative' to dating services like Tinder
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden sings his heart out in his second audition
tvX Factor: How did the Jakes - and Charlie Martinez - fare?
premier league
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvOnly remaining original cast-member to leave crime series
Mario Balotelli celebrates his first Liverpool goal
premier leagueLiverpool striker expressed his opinion about the 5-3 thriller with Leicester - then this happened
Britain's shadow chancellor Ed Balls (L) challenges reporter Rob Merrick for the ball during the Labour Party versus the media soccer match,
peopleReporter left bleeding after tackle from shadow Chancellor in annual political football match
Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says
tvSpoiler warning: Star of George RR Martin's hit series says viewers have 'not seen the last' of him/her
Plenty to ponder: Amir Khan has had repeated problems with US immigration because of his Muslim faith and now American television may shun him
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Head of Marketing and Communications - London - up to £80,000

£70000 - £80000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Group Head of Marketing and Communic...

Nursery Nurse

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: Level 3 Nursery Nurse required for ...

Nursery Nurse

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: L3 Nursery Nurses urgently required...

SEN Teaching Assistant

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: We have a number of schools based S...

Day In a Page

A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments