Clashes at Palestinian rally for hunger striker

Palestinians and foreign activists chant slogans as they march with their hands chained together during a protest held in solidarity with Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails in Gaza City, Thursday, Feb. 14, 2013.
AP Photo/Adel Hana

JERUSALEM Palestinian demonstrators clashed with Israeli soldiers on Friday at a rally held in support of a prisoner observing an intermittent hunger strike to protest his incarceration.

The Israeli military said about 200 Palestinians threw rocks at soldiers who responded with tear gas during the rally outside Ofer prison in the West Bank. The protesters called for the release of Samer Issawi, who has been on an on-again, off-again hunger strike for several months as he serves time for alleged terror activity.

The prisoner issue is an emotional one for Palestinians after decades of conflict with Israel. Palestinians generally view them as heroes, regardless of the reason for their imprisonment — even when their crimes have involved killing civilians. Last year hundreds of Palestinian prisoners used hunger strikes to seek concessions from Israel.

Issawi, 35, was initially released in 2011 in a prisoner exchange. One Israeli soldier was freed from captivity in Gaza in exchange for more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners, many of whom were convicted of being involved in suicide bombings and other deadly attacks.

Some prisoners, like Issawi, were released on condition of travel limits. Israeli Prison Service spokeswoman Sivan Weizman said he was arrested after he violated the terms of his release. She said he was arrested for "terror activity" and sentenced to 26 years, but released in the 2011 prisoner swap after serving only six years.

Issawi is under medical supervision and eats periodically, she said.

Issawi's sister, Shirin, said he has been on hunger strike for 206 days. She said he has only been drinking water since January. She said the prison takes her brother to an Israeli hospital for treatment.

The Palestinian minister of prisoner affairs, Issa Qaraqe, said Issawi began his fast in August and has been observing it intermittently.

Qaraqe said Issawi had lost about 77 pounds, has kidney pain and has lost feeling in parts of the right side of his body.

He said there are four prisoners on hunger strike.

Human rights groups have warned of their worsening health.

"If, God forbid, any prisoner dies of hunger strike inside the prison, the situation on the ground will deteriorate," Qaraqe said. "People won't stand for any prisoner to die of a hunger strike."