Palestinians respond to prisoner death in Israeli jail with general strike
RAMALLAH (Palestinian Territories) - Palestinians across the West Bank and Gaza were observing a general strike on Wednesday, with prisoners refusing food to mourn the death of a fellow inmate in an Israeli jail.
The death on Tuesday morning of Maisara Abu Hamdiyeh, a 63-year-old from the West Bank town of Hebron suffering from throat cancer, sparked outrage across the territories with the Palestinian leadership accusing Israel of medical negligence.
As news of his death spread, disturbances broke out among Palestinian prisoners in at least four Israeli jails and stone-throwing clashes erupted in Hebron, Abu Hamdiyeh's hometown, that continued on Wednesday.
As a show of mourning, schools, shops and offices were closed in Hebron at the start of what officials said would be a three-day general strike, as stone-throwing youths clashed with the army in the city centre for the second day running, a correspondent said.
A full strike was also being observed in the northern West Bank city of Nablus where thousands of demonstrators gathered in the city centre for a mass rally, another correspondent said.
A strike was likewise being observed in annexed east Jerusalem ahead of the arrival of Abu Hamdiyeh's body at Abu Dis medical centre where it was to undergo a Palestinian autopsy on Wednesday afternoon ahead of a funeral in Hebron on Thursday.
In Ramallah and the Gaza Strip, the strike was being partially observed, other correspondents said.
Meanwhile, thousands of Palestinian prisoners refused their breakfast at the start of a one-day hunger strike in protest over Abu Hamdiyeh's death, an Israel Prisons Service spokeswoman said.
"4,600 prisoners refused their breakfast this morning in a protest after the death of a prisoner yesterday," Sivan Weizman said, the figure representing the entire Palestinian prison population.
The issue of Palestinians jailed by Israel is highly sensitive and frequently sparks mass demonstrations across the territories that tend to develop into violent clashes with the military.
One of the main points of concern is prisoners on long-term hunger strike who are held without charge, or the conditions of their arrest.
But Tuesday's death sparked an angry outburst over what many said was an Israeli policy of medical negligence.
"The death of Maisara Abu Hamdiyeh shows the Israeli government's arrogance and intransigence over the prisoners," Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas told reporters in Ramallah.
"We tried to get him released for treatment but the Israeli government refused to let him out, which led to his death."
Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad also issued a strongly-worded statement in which he slammed the "continued policy of medical negligence of Israeli prison authorities against prisoners as well as the delay in providing them with proper medical treatment."
He also lashed out at what he said was "the delay" in diagnosing Abu Hamdiyeh's condition, which was only discovered in February.
Gaza's Hamas rulers said they were following with the "greatest concern" the developments and warned that Israel would "regret its continuing crimes."
As news of his death emerged, militants fired three rockets at Israel, although only one struck Israeli territory, prompting retaliatory air strikes by Israel overnight.
Two more rockets struck Israel on Wednesday morning in an attack claimed by a radical Salafist group which linked the firing to the prisoner's death.
Abu Hamdiyeh, a senior official from Abbas's Fatah movement, began complaining of throat problems about nine months ago and was diagnosed with cancer of the oesophagus in February.
He was jailed for life in 2002 on charges of attempted murder in connection with a failed bombing attack on a Jerusalem cafe, Israeli officials say.