Israel frees iconic Palestinian hunger striker Samer Issawi

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Young Palestinian protesters hold portraits of hunger striking prisoner Samer Issawi during a solidarity sit-in outside the Red Cross offices in Jerusalem on March 14, 2013. (Photo: AFP - Ahmad Gharabli)

Published Monday, December 23, 2013

Updated 7:00pm: Iconic Palestinian prisoner Samer Issawi, whose unprecedented 277-day hunger strike from inside an Israeli jail helped draw international attention to the plight of prisoners earlier this year, was released Monday after a 17-month incarceration.

"Samer Issawi is free," his sister, Shireen, wrote on Facebook from the gates of Israel's Shatta prison Monday evening.

She posted a photo of her 34-year-old brother smiling and flashing a V sign from inside an ambulance.

Samer Issawi became a national symbol in the Palestinian struggle against Israeli oppression after launching a hunger strike last year to protest his imprisonment.

He ended his nearly-nine-month strike on April 23, 2013 after striking a deal with Israel's prison authorities to serve an eight-month sentence for an alleged parole violation.

Thousands of Palestinians had taken to the streets on an almost daily-basis earlier this year to demand Issawi's release. They frequently confronted Israeli occupation forces who fired tear gas, rubber-coated bullets and live ammunition at them on multiple occasions.

The movement to release Issawi and other Palestinian prisoners quickly gained steam, drawing an avalanche of international support, with solidarity protests being held in Europe and the United States.

Issawi was first arrested about 11 years ago for arms possession and released in a Hamas-Israel prisoner exchange deal in October 2011.

But Israel rearrested him on July 7, 2012 and ordered him to serve the remainder of his original 26 year sentence, allegedly for travelling outside Jerusalem in violation of his parole.

Issawi's health drastically deteriorated towards the end of his hunger strike, with his family warning that he was on the verge of death. Observers also warned that Issawi's death in prison could ignite a new uprising.

His hunger strike was inspired by an earlier, mass hunger strike that saw some 2,000 Palestinian prisoners refuse food to protest their so-called administrative detentions.

That policy allows Israel to hold prisoners without charge for six-month periods that can be renewed indefinitely. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have slammed Israel's administrative detention as a violation of international humanitarian law.

Those prisoner ended their mass hunger strike in May 2012 after reaching a deal with Israel that promised they would be release. But some of them later went on hunger strike again after Israeli renewed their detentions without charge in violation of the agreement.

(Al-Akhbar)

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