Top Palestinian official urges release of terror convict with COVID-19
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Top Palestinian official urges release of terror convict with COVID-19

Kamal Abu Waer, 46, is serving multiple life sentences for his role in attacks on Israeli civilians during the Second Intifada

Palestine Liberation Organization Secretary-General Saeb Erekat speaks at the J Street National Conference, in Washington, October 28, 2019. (Jacquelyn Martin/AP)
Palestine Liberation Organization Secretary-General Saeb Erekat speaks at the J Street National Conference, in Washington, October 28, 2019. (Jacquelyn Martin/AP)

Palestinian Liberation Organization Secretary-General Saeb Erekat demanded on Sunday the “immediate and unconditional” release of a Palestinian terror convict infected with the coronavirus while in Israeli jail.

Kamal Abu Waer is the first Palestinian security prisoner in Israel with a confirmed case of COVID-19.

“We have warned the international community in recent past months of the risk of coronavirus spreading among prisoners. We have appealed to the nations of the world and human rights organizations to intervene, but Israel did not respond to Palestinian and international demands and evaded compliance with international humanitarian law,” Erekat said, calling for an “international panel” to investigate the treatment of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails.

Abu Waer, 46, is serving multiple life sentences at Gilboa Prison for his role in several terror attacks against Israeli civilians during the Second Intifada, as a member of the Tanzim, an armed branch of the Palestinian Fatah movement. He was arrested in 2003.

In recent months, his health has deteriorated, following a diagnosis of throat cancer, and he is currently hospitalized at Assaf Harofeh Medical Center.

The Israel Prisons Service says he was tested twice last week for COVID-19. On Wednesday the result was negative, but on Friday it was positive.

All his movements are now being traced and anyone who has been in contact with him will be required to quarantine for 14 days.

The Palestinian Authority has accused Israel of dragging its feet in implementing steps designed to prevent outbreaks in prisons.

Despite the PA’s claims, Israel, unlike many other countries, has been remarkably successful in preventing an outbreak of COVID-19 in its prison system.

However, the strict limitations that the Israel Prisons Service has put in place have been criticized by some human rights advocates and convicts’ families as excessive.

Prisoners in Rimonim maximum security prison wear masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19 among the prison population. (Courtesy, Israel Prison Service)

Starting on March 17, the Israel Prison Service placed its nearly 14,000 prisoners and 9,000 staff, spread across more than 30 correctional facilities, on lockdown.

Prisons were shut off from the outside world — with inmates not be able to receive visits, meet with their attorneys or go on furloughs — as part of the government’s effort to prevent the pandemic from entering the penal system.

Interrogations were conducted inside of prisons rather than at police stations, judicial hearings were held over teleconference and family visits were restricted to five-minute Zoom calls.

Guards, who would usually pull 24-hour shifts followed by two days off, were suddenly doing one week on, two weeks off, during which time they monitored themselves for coronavirus symptoms. New inmates would be held in quarantine for two weeks before being allowed to mix with the general prison population.

Some 500 prisoners within 30 days of the end of their sentences were approved for early release to house arrest to reduce the risk of a coronavirus outbreak in jails.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, governments around the world have scrambled to protect their convict populations in the face of the rapid spread of the novel coronavirus, which has killed 569,098 people.

According to the World Health Organization, prisoners generally suffer from worse health than the general population and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has warned that many countries’ detention facilities are overcrowded and “physical distancing and self-isolation in such conditions are practically impossible.”

In late April, a 21-year-old Palestinian from the West Bank who was arrested by Israel and brought to a Jerusalem jail was confirmed to have the coronavirus and was transferred to a quarantined ward. More recently, on June 23, the IPS announced that a detainee had been diagnosed with COVID-19 and was immediately transferred to an isolation cell.

However, these were rare examples and the disease did not spread within the system.

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