Blake Sobczak
Associated Press
July 5, 2012 - 12:00am

A Palestinian prisoner convicted of transporting suicide bombers is in critical condition after a nearly three-month hunger strike, a rights group said Thursday.

Akram Rikhawi started fasting on April 12, just before 1,200 other prisoners began refusing food to demand better conditions.

Israeli authorities reached a deal with participants in the wider strike by mid-May, easing some restrictions. Rikhawi has continued to protest his detention by refusing to eat.

According to Physicians for Human Rights-Israel, the 39-year-old Rikhawi seeks early release from his nine-year sentence because of his ailments, which include diabetes and asthma.

Israel's Shin Bet internal security agency said Rikhawi was sentenced to nine years in prison for smuggling suicide bombers for the Islamic militant Hamas, planting explosives for another Palestinian group, the Popular Resistance Committees, and attempting to bomb Israeli soldiers.

"He is in a very fragile condition," said Anat Litvin of Physicians for Human Rights-Israel. "He doesn't have much time," she said.

Litvin said a doctor visited Rikhawi a day earlier and reported he was suffering from severe dizziness and could barely stand.

Israeli Prison Service spokeswoman Sivan Weizman said Rikhawi was not in immediate danger, and the prison service would do all it can to keep him alive.

Other Palestinian prisoners who went on hunger strike this year ended their protests before anyone died.

Prisoners who went on strike in April were mainly protesting the practice of "administrative detention," imprisonment without trial, which Israel says is crucial to prevent attacks without revealing sources of information.

Two other Palestinian prisoners, Hassan Safadi and Samer Al Barq, are also currently on hunger strikes.

The prisoner issue is emotional for Palestinians, many of whom have had a loved one behind bars at some point during decades of conflict. Palestinians generally view them as heroes, regardless of the reason for their imprisonment.


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