Saud Abu Ramadan
April 17, 2011 - 12:00am

Hundreds of Palestinians in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip and the West Bank marked on Sunday the Palestinian Prisoner Day with demonstrations calling on Israel to release the prisoners, as thousands of prisoners in Israeli jails went on a one-day hunger strike.

In Gaza City, hundreds of Palestinians, including mothers, children and wives of the prisoners in Israeli jails demonstrated in front of the headquarters of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), calling on Israel to release more than 7,000 Palestinian prisoners imprisoned in 12 Israeli jails.

Qadoora Fares, chairman of the Palestinian Prisoners Club Association in the West Bank, told Xinhua that the Palestinian prisoners in the Israeli jails marked the day by going on a one- day hunger strike to stress their legal rights in the prisons.

Ateya al-Najar, an ex-prisoner from Gaza who spent more than 10 years in Israeli jails, told the rally "we should employ and invest all our possible energies and efforts to free the prisoners who had sacrificed for the sake of the just Palestinian cause and for ending the occupation."

Atteya al-Basyooni, another member of the Palestinian left-wing Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), told the rally that in this crucial time, "the Palestinian people and their political leadership must be united in order to succeed in bringing all the prisoners back home to their families."

Om Abdel Rahman Abu Lebda, mother of Abdel Rahman, a Palestinian from Gaza who is imprisoned in Israel, said the Palestinians should first end their ongoing internal division between Gaza and the West Bank, and "be united to be able to free the prisoners from the jails of the occupation."

The internal Palestinian division began in June 2007, when Islamic Hamas movement seized control of the Gaza Strip and routed the security forces loyal to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Since then, the two rivals failed to reach a national reconciliation to end their division.

In 2006, Hamas militants and members of two other minor militant groups kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit during a cross-border raid southeast of the Gaza Strip. Hamas, the main captor of Shalit, has been demanding a swap for the release of Shalit by releasing around 1,000 prisoners from the Israeli jails.

Hamas and Israel traded accusations over the failure of mediations to finalize a prisoner swap deal between the two sides.

At a rally in Gaza City to mark the Prisoner Day, Ahmed Bahar, deputy speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) the inoperative parliament dominated by Hamas, called on Shalit's captors to stick to their demands until the mediators and Israel meet it, adding that "Israel is responsible for obstructing the swap deal."

In a speech in Gaza City, Ismail Haneya, prime minister of the deposed Hamas government in Gaza, also called on the Palestinian people to support his movement to "achieve an honorable swap" in which a number of Palestinian and Arab prisoners (will be) released from Israeli jails."

Over the past 11 years, Israel arrested thousands of Palestinians, saying many of them were involved in carrying out attacks against Israelis.

According to statistics from the Palestinian ministry of prisoners affairs, there are more than 6,000 prisons in Israeli jails, including 4,747 from the West Bank and 1,676 from the Gaza Strip. The issue Palestinian prisoners has been one of the top issues in the stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

In the West Bank, hundreds of Palestinians demonstrated in the city of Ramallah Saturday, demanding Israel to free the prisoners. The protestors walked through streets and gathered in the center of the city, holding Palestinian flags and portraits of the detainees.

Eissa Qaraqe, Palestinian minister of prisoners' affairs in Ramallah, said during the demonstration that there will be no peace with Israel before all prisoners are freed.


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