Palestinians push EU to act for prisoners' release
(RAMALLAH) - The Palestinians on Monday demanded that the European Union go beyond calls for Israel to improve its treatment of Palestinian prisoners and work to secure their immediate release.
The demand was made in a letter from negotiator Saeb Erakat that was sent to EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton just two days after she called on Israel to respect its human rights obligations towards Palestinian prisoners and expressed concern over the fate of four long-term hunger strikers.
"We believe it is no longer acceptable to merely request better treatment of Palestinians in Israeli occupation prisons, but to demand an end to the arbitrary system of Israeli detentions," the letter said.
Flagging up the deteriorating health of four long-term hunger-striking prisoners -- Samer Issawi, Tareq Qaadan, Jafar Ezzedine and Ayman Sharawna -- Erakat warned of the consequences if one of them died.
"Should this happen, we will hold Israel fully responsible," he said.
The issue hunger strikers issue has sparked several mass protests across the Palestinian territories, with 1,000 people rallying in the northern city of Nablus on Monday, and another 1,500 gathering in central Hebron, AFP correspondents said.
"We are asking you to prevent a tragedy and take immediate and definitive action to secure the freedom of Palestinian prisoners on hunger strike," Erakat wrote.
"More broadly, we demand an end to Israeli arbitrary detention, applied in the vast majority of cases under the guise of 'administrative detention'," he said of a procedure whereby prisoners are held without charge for six-month periods which can be renewed indefinitely.
Erakat also urged the EU to make its strong trade relations with Israel dependent on the Jewish state's level of respect for international humanitarian law.
"We believe it is time for the EU to take concrete steps in order to end Israel's impunity and defiance of international law," he wrote.
"We therefore urge you to consider the importance of human rights and international humanitarian law in your bilateral relations and agreements with the State of Israel."
In its weekend statement, the EU called on Israel to immediately restore family visiting rights and for Israel to demonstrate "full respect" for its international human rights obligations vis-a-vis the detainees.