Freed Palestinian hunger striker takes up arms
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Freed Palestinian hunger striker takes up arms

Clip shows Ayman Sharawneh, who was exiled to Gaza earlier this year, joining Hamas gunmen on border with Israel

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Ayman Sharawneh in Hamas fatigues months after Israel released him to Gaza (photo credit: Channel 2 screen capture)
Ayman Sharawneh in Hamas fatigues months after Israel released him to Gaza (photo credit: Channel 2 screen capture)

A former Palestinian prisoner who made headlines earlier this year after a lengthy hunger strike led Israel to release him has taken up arms again. Ayman Sharawneh, who was released on condition he not exit the Gaza Strip for the next 10 years, was filmed sporting an automatic weapon and joining Hamas gunmen as they took up positions along the border with Israel.

Sharawneh, 36, was released from Israeli prison in March, bringing to an end a seven-month hunger strike that made him a symbol of resistance for the Palestinians. The terms of his release demanded that he be confined to Gaza for 10 years and not engage in terrorist activities.

In the clip, shown on Channel 2 News Tuesday (Hebrew), Sharawneh can be seen donning combat fatigues and lacing up his boots before taking up a rifle and joining a patrol of Hamas’s military wing, the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, along the Strip’s border with Israel.

“Our message to the occupiers is clear,” Sharawneh says to the camera. “We are here to protect our land.”

Sharawneh is shown joining a briefing with several heavily armed Hamas fighters and then posing as he aims a rifle from behind the cover of a tree.

“We will liberate al-Aksa (the Temple Mount) and the West Bank,” he continues. “All of Palestine, from the [Mediterranean] sea to the [Jordan] river, will be liberated, and we will release our brothers, the prisoners.”

Sharawneh was serving out a 38-year prison sentence for participating in terror attacks. He had been one of about 1,000 Palestinian prisoners freed in 2011 in exchange for IDF soldier Gilad Shalit, who was kidnapped from Israel and held hostage for five years by Hamas in Gaza. Among other offenses, he was convicted of detonating an explosives-filled bag in the southern Israeli city of Beersheba, wounding several people. Israel re-arrested him in January 2012 and accused him of violating the terms of his release by making contact with Hamas operatives.

Hunger-striker Ayman Sharawneh shortly after his release from Israeli prison in March 2013 (screen capture: Youtube/RuptlyTV)
Hunger striker Ayman Sharawneh shortly after his release from Israeli prison in March 2013 (screen capture: Youtube/RuptlyTV)

Sharawneh began his hunger strike in July 2012, and his deteriorating condition after 261 days without food eventually led Israeli authorities to release him a second time. In March 2013 he agreed to end his fast and accept exile in the Gaza Strip, where he would be cut off from his family in the West Bank city of Hebron.

Sharawneh and other hunger strikers have attracted significant attention in the international media, prompting demonstrations throughout the West Bank as well as solidarity hunger strikes among other Palestinian inmates.

In February several Palestinians and three Israeli journalists were injured as thousands of Palestinians demonstrated at the Beitunia military checkpoint near the Ofer Prison outside Ramallah, calling for the release of inmates who were on a hunger strike.

Defense officials had expressed fear that, were prisoners to die of malnutrition or complications stemming from the hunger strikes, a serious conflagration could erupt in the West Bank.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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