JERUSALEM: Israel has offered to deport a hunger-striking Palestinian prisoner to Europe or a UN-member country, an Israeli official said yesterday, in an effort to reach a compromise over the high-profile detainee. But a lawyer for the 33-year-old hunger striker says he has refused to be deported, and a European Union official denied that Israel had officially made the offer to deport him.
Samer Issawi, who is from Jerusalem, has been refusing food for the past eight months to protest his detention. He has been drinking water and receiving infusions, which has kept him alive despite his frail health. On Thursday, he issued a rare plea urging Israelis to visit him in the hospital, parts of which were published in the liberal Israeli daily Haaretz.
The Israeli official, who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity in line with regulations, said the prime minister’s office offered to deport Issawi after EU and UN officials expressed concern about his health. The Israeli official said neither body had replied to the offer.
The official said if an EU or UN-member country was willing to take him, Israel would be more than happy to let him go, but that so far, no country had offered. He said the proposal came up recently in a work conversation between officials of the EU and Israel and in parallel between Israel and UN officials.
An EU spokesman in Israel, David Kriss, said the EU had not received an official Israeli deportation offer. A spokeswoman for the UN was looking into the matter. Jawad Bulous, a lawyer for Issawi, said the prisoner had turned down a previous offer to be sent to the Gaza Strip, and would not accept deportation to any other country. “He refuses all of these options,” Bulous said.
Issawi was sentenced to 26 years prison for his role in a series of shooting attacks targeting Israeli police cars and students at Jerusalem’s Hebrew University. He was released from prison as part of a 2011 exchange that freed hundreds of Palestinians many of them militants involved in deadly attacks – in exchange for the release of an Israeli soldier held by Hamas-backed militants.
But Issawi was arrested again for violating the conditions of his release by entering the nearby West Bank. He is expected to carry out his entire sentence as a result. The Israeli official said Issawi was re-arrested for trying to reestablish a Hamas cell in the West Bank. Israel has reached similar deals in the past to deport Palestinian prisoners to the Gaza Strip or other countries, including prisoners released in the 2011 exchange. Also this week, a Palestinian poll released by the Jerusalem Media and Communications Centre showed a decline in support for rocket attacks on Israel among residents of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
Meanwhile, Israel reopened a goods crossing into the Gaza Strip yesterday, officials said, after closing it several days earlier in response to rocket fire from the besieged Palestinian enclave. “Kerem Shalom crossing was reopened this morning,” said Guy Inbar, spokesman for the Israeli defense ministry unit responsible for all civilian affairs in the Palestinian territories.
The crossing “doesn’t normally function on Friday but we opened it especially to allow the transport of goods blocked since its closure on Monday,” he added. A rocket fired from Gaza crashed into southern Israel on Sunday, as US Secretary of State John Kerry arrived for talks with Israeli and Palestinian leaders. It struck an uninhabited part of the Negev desert, causing no damage or casualties.
The UN expressed “serious concern” on Wednesday at the impact of Israeli restrictions on the transfer of goods to civilian populations, particularly the Kerem Shalom closure. “These measures are resulting in the depletion of… essential supplies, including basic foodstuffs and cooking gas, and undermine the livelihoods and rights of many vulnerable Gazan families,” UN Humanitarian Coordinator for the Palestinian territories James W Rawley said in a statement. - Agencies