Hamas, Fatah join ranks to call for Israel to free prisoners

Hamas, Fatah join ranks to call for Israel to free prisoners

By Adel Zaanoun (FT) – 4 hours ago

GAZA CITY — Hamas and Fatah closed ranks on Saturday to mark Palestinian Prisoners' Day on Saturday, in the first joint initiative by the bitter rivals since the latter was routed from Gaza in 2007.

Representatives of the two factions, joined by members of smaller militant groups, relatives of prisoners and international activists, staged a sit-down protest and 24-hour fast outside the Gaza City offices of the Red Cross.

Ismail Haniya, head of the Hamas government in Gaza, made a brief visit to call for Palestinian reconciliation and urge all Palestinians to fight Israeli occupation "by any means" and pressure Israel to free thousands of prisoners.

"We must put aside anything that can harm our unity," Fatah representative Raafat Hamdouna said, hailing Saturday's joint protest with the Islamist movement Hamas which expelled Fatah in deadly street fighting in June 2007.

This year's rallies and vigils in the Gaza Strip, the Israeli-occupied West Bank and annexed east Jerusalem in support of the prisoners came a day after a detainee died in Israeli custody.

In Ramallah, about 1,000 people marched through the centre of the West Bank city, carrying pictures of imprisoned relatives and of Marwan Barghuti, a jailed leader of the mainstream Fatah party.

Barghuti, architect of the 2000 uprising against Israeli occupation, is serving five life terms but remains popular and is often spoken of as a successor to Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas.

"We shall not rest until the prisoners issue is resolved," prisoners' affairs minister Issa Qaraqae told the crowd in Ramallah.

Abbas said in a statement for the annual Prisoners' Day that there could be no end to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict without the release of the prisoners.

"There cannot be a solution or peace in our region without a final resolution of the prisoner issue and the release of all Palestinian detainees in Israeli prisons," he said.

A man serving a 10-year sentence for attempted murder died in his prison cell in southern Israel late on Friday, Qaraqae's ministry said, adding he was the 19th Palestinian to die in Israeli custody over the past decade.

Israeli prisons service officials, quoted in the media, said the man, Raed Abu Hamad, 31, had a history of medical problems and that his death was being investigated.

In east Jerusalem, relatives held pictures of their jailed loved ones at the entrance to the walled Old City.

In Gaza City, Haniya met prisoners' aid officials and called on Arab countries to donate funds for prisoners and their families, in Gaza, the West Bank and Jerusalem.

More than 7,000 Palestinians, including 270 under the age of 18, are currently being held in Israeli prisons, according to data released by the Palestinian central bureau of statistics.

Three of the prisoners have been in jail for more than 30 years, and 315 for more than 15 years, the office said in a statement released on the eve of Prisoners' Day.

Of those held, 264 are under administrative detention, meaning they are being held without trial.

Since Israel seized the West Bank along with other Arab territories in the 1967 Middle East war, it has detained a total of more than 760,000 Palestinians, the statement said.