Hundreds of Palestinians, including dozens of masked gunmen firing into the air, took to the streets and stores shuttered across the West Bank Tuesday to protest the death of a Palestinian terrorist, convicted of murdering several Israelis, who died of cancer while serving time in an Israeli prison.
Palestinian factions called for a general strike and urged people to confront Israeli troops after Nasser Abu Hmeid died of lung cancer.
Abu Hmeid, 51, was a founding member of the Al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade terror group, the armed wing of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah party. He had been serving multiple life sentences since 2002 after being convicted in the deaths of seven Israelis during the second Palestinian intifada, or uprising, against Israel in the early 2000s.
Palestinian officials had called for his release as his health deteriorated in recent months.
Prisoners held by Israel, including those convicted of murdering Israeli civilians, are widely seen as heroes in Palestinian society for allegedly resisting Israeli military control of the West Bank, which is now in its 55th year. Israel and much of the West consider them terrorists.
Hundreds of people joined a march in honor of Abu Hmeid in Ramallah, the seat of Abbas’s government. Demonstrators hoisted Palestinian flags and yellow Fatah flags, while others held posters of Abu Hmeid next to Al-Aqsa Mosque, on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. A group of black-clad gunmen marched through the city, firing into the air.
Shopkeepers in Ramallah, Nablus, Hebron and Bethlehem closed their businesses, while schools sent students home and protesters gathered in several areas of the West Bank.
A demonstration was also held in the Gaza Strip, ruled by terror group Hamas.
Abu Hmeid’s mother, Latifa, said her son was a “martyr” and told AFP: “We thank God that we had a chance to see him and say goodbye.”
“It was a difficult moment,” she said. “I told him: ‘Son, may God protect you.'”
The Israel Prison Service (IPS) confirmed Abu Hmeid’s death in a Tel Aviv-area hospital, 20 years into his life sentence for murder and attempted murder. It said he was terminally ill and hospitalized a day earlier. The service added that “as in every case of this kind, the incident will be investigated.”
The Palestinian Prisoners Club, a group representing former and current prisoners, said that around 4,700 Palestinians are imprisoned by Israel for security offenses and illegal entry to Israel. It said Abu Hmeid was diagnosed with cancer in August 2021.
Palestinian officials blamed Israel for Abu Hmeid’s death. PA Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh accused Israel of “deliberate medical negligence.”
Shtayyeh said he was mourning Abu Hmeid’s death “in the name of the government and our Palestinian people.”
The IPS rejected the allegations of negligence, saying the prisoner “received regular and close care from IPS medical staff and external professionals.”
Hamas said Abu Hmeid’s passing was a “serious crime” against Palestinian prisoners and the Palestinian people. It called for “a real escalation in the occupation prisons” in response to his death.
Israel is weighing whether or not to release Abu Hmeid’s body for burial, fearing unrest and incitement during and following the funeral, Channel 12 reported.
Five of Abu Hmeid’s brothers have spent time in Israeli prisons for their role in violence, while another brother was killed in 1994 in clashes with Israeli forces.
Nasser Abu Hmeid was arrested in 2002 and tried along with Marwan Barghouti, a popular Palestinian leader who is currently serving five life sentences for planning attacks on Israelis.
Abu Hmeid had refused to recognize the legitimacy of the Israeli court that convicted him.
Abu Hmeid’s death came as one of the deadliest years in Israeli-Palestinian fighting in recent decades draws to a close, with the prospects of negotiating a two-state solution and ending Israel’s open-ended military rule over the West Bank increasingly remote.