The IDF on Thursday deployed the Iron Dome missile defense system near the port city of Ashdod amid fears that a deterioration in the condition of a Palestinian hunger striker could provoke revenge rocket fire from the Gaza Strip.
Doctors said Mohammed Allaan, who was being treated in the Barzilai Medical Center in nearby Ashkelon, had opened his eyes and was responding to his surroundings, but it was still not clear if he had suffered any brain damage as a result of his 64-day hunger strike.
Dr. Hezy Levy of Barzilai hospital said Allan is showing “great improvement.” He said Allan had been taken off a respirator and started to communicate and was “on the right path.”
Allaan had been in an induced coma due to his condition but doctors revived him during the day Thursday and he was reportedly prepared to start taking food orally. Despite the improvement, doctors said he was still in serious condition, Channel 2 news reported.
Health Ministry security officials met with police representatives on Thursday and raised another concern — that extremist Israeli Jews might try to harm Allaan as he lay in his hospital bed. As a precaution, the intensive care ward where he was being kept will have 24-hour police protection.
Palestinian terror group Islamic Jihad, of which Allaan is accused of being a member, last week threatened to step up attacks on Israel should the hunger striker die in Israeli custody.
The group is thought to have a rocket arsenal in Gaza second only to Hamas’s in size and range.
Besides stationing an Iron Dome battery near Ashdod, the army also placed a second anti-missile battery near Beersheba, according to Channel 2 news.
Both cities are around about 40 kilometers from Gaza, within the range of Islamic Jihad’s arsenal.
Rocket fire from Gaza has mostly stopped since Israel reached a ceasefire with Hamas-led fighters in the Strip after last summer’s war. However, southern Israel has still been subjected to sporadic rocket fire over recent months, much of it from Salafi groups chafing under Hamas rule.
Allaan, 31, started his hunger strike to protest his incarceration under administrative detention — an Israeli legal term for imprisonment without trial on terrorism charges — for affiliation with the Islamic Jihad terrorist organization.
On Wednesday the High Court of Justice ruled that in light of Allaan’s worsening medical condition, his status as an administrative detainee will be suspended, a move that could pave the way for his release from Israeli prison.
Medical tests showed that Allaan suffered brain damage due to vitamin deficiency. Reports conflicted as to whether the damage was reversible.
At the High Court hearing, state attorneys said Israel would release Allaan if medical tests showed he had suffered irreversible brain damage. Israel reasoned that lasting brain damage would prevent Allaan from returning to the alleged activities for which he was detained, Israeli website Ynet reported.
Allaan was arrested in November after security officials said they had compelling evidence that he was in contact with Islamic Jihad activists for the purpose of carrying out attacks against Israelis.
Several demonstrations in support of Allaan have been held since his condition began to deteriorate over the past two weeks, with pro-Palestinian protesters facing off against far-right Israeli counter-protesters in sometimes violent confrontations.
Israel passed a controversial law last month allowing authorities to force-feed hunger-striking prisoners, but doctors at Barzilai and elsewhere have said they will refuse to comply with the directive.
Several Palestinians have gone on hunger strike in recent years to protest administrative detention, with a number managing to wrest their freedom or better conditions from Israeli authorities.
AFP contributed to this report.