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Condition of hunger-striking Palestinian prisoner deteriorates to ‘life-threatening’

Palestinian Islamic Jihad warns that Israel will ‘bear full responsibility’ if Khalil Awawdeh dies; wife says he has been moved to a hospital

Palestinian Dalal Awawdeh poses with a poster of her husband Khalil Awawdeh, who is a prisoner in Israel, at the family house, in the West Bank village of Idna, Hebron, Aug. 9, 2022. (Nasser Nasser/AP)
Palestinian Dalal Awawdeh poses with a poster of her husband Khalil Awawdeh, who is a prisoner in Israel, at the family house, in the West Bank village of Idna, Hebron, Aug. 9, 2022. (Nasser Nasser/AP)

A Palestinian prisoner on a protracted hunger strike was moved Thursday from an Israeli jail to a hospital because of his worsening condition, the prisoner’s wife said.

Khalil Awawdeh has refused food for just over 160 days in a bid to draw attention to his detention by Israel without trial or charge. His case was thrust into the spotlight after a flare-up of violence last weekend between Israel and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror group, which demanded that he be released as part of a ceasefire that ended the fighting. The death toll in the violence has since risen to 47.

A senior Palestinian Islamic Jihad official warned Israel against “playing with Awadeh’s life,” the Ynet website reported. “Israel will bear full responsibility if he dies,” said the PIJ official, who was not identified in the report.

The 40-year-old father of four was arrested by Israel in December and accused of being a member of a terror group, a charge Awawdeh’s lawyer said he denies. Recently, he has been using a wheelchair and was showing memory loss and speech difficulties, according to his lawyer, Ahlam Haddad.

Dalal Awawdeh, Khalil’s wife, said his condition had deteriorated, prompting Israeli authorities to move him to a hospital. The Palestinian Prisoners Club, which represents former and current prisoners, confirmed that Awawdeh’s condition had worsened.

“He is in a real life-threatening situation,” said Qadura Fares, the head of the organization. “He could die at any moment.”

Bassem Saadi (left) is seen at a military court in the West Bank, August 11, 2022. (Doron Kadosh/Army Radio, courtesy)

A spokeswoman for the Israel Prisons Service could not immediately be reached for comment.

Prospects for Awawdeh’s release under the ceasefire are uncertain. Though PIJ said the truce included agreement on the release of Awawdeh and senior PIJ commander Bassem Saadi, Israel has denied that they are part of the deal. A military court on Thursday extended the detention of Saadi, whose arrest on August 1 sparked the violence.

But Awawdeh’s case highlights the plight of hundreds of Palestinians who are being held by Israel under a system that critics say denies them the right to due process. The worsening conditions of hunger striking prisoners has in the past whipped up tensions with the Palestinians, and in some cases prompted Israel to accede to hunger strikers’ demands.

Israel is currently holding some 4,400 Palestinians, including those who have carried out deadly attacks, as well as people arrested at protests or for throwing stones. Around 670 Palestinians are now being held in administrative detention, a number that jumped in March as Israel began near-nightly arrest raids in the West Bank following a spate of deadly terror attacks against Israelis.

Israel says administrative detention is needed to prevent attacks or to keep dangerous suspects locked up without sharing evidence that could endanger valuable intelligence sources. Israel says it provides due process and largely imprisons those who threaten its security.

Palestinians and human rights groups say the system is designed to quash opposition and maintain permanent control over millions of Palestinians while denying them basic rights.

Rockets are launched towards Israel from Gaza City in the Gaza Strip, Aug. 7, 2022. (Hatem Moussa/AP)

Meanwhile, the death toll from last weekend’s fighting between Israel and PIJ rose to 48, after an 11-year-old girl and a man died from wounds sustained during the violence, the Health Ministry in Gaza said Thursday.

Israeli aircraft struck targets in the Gaza Strip and the PIJ fired more than a thousand rockets over three days of fighting, the worst cross-border violence since an 11-day war with Hamas last year.

According to the Hamas-run Health Ministry, 48 people were killed, among them 17 children and four women. Israeli strikes appear to have killed some 30 people, among them several PIJ fighters including two senior Islamic Jihad commanders, one of whom Israel said it targeted in order to foil an imminent attack. Israel says as many as 16 people may have been killed by rockets misfired by Palestinian terrorists at Israeli territory and that fell short inside Gaza.

It wasn’t immediately clear how the man whose death was announced Thursday was wounded.

The ceasefire took hold Sunday night, bringing an end to the fighting, in which no Israelis were killed or seriously wounded.

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