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Middle East
Israel frees hunger-striking Gaza footballer
Mahmoud Sarsak, who ended hunger strike as term of release, is freed after three years in jail without charges or trial.
Last Modified: 10 Jul 2012 12:25
Mahmoud Sarsak was greeted upon his arrival in Gaza after he spent three years behind bars without trial [Reuters]

Israel has released a member of the Palestinian national football team who lobbied for his freedom with a hunger strike of more than three months.

Mahmoud Sarsak greeted well-wishers in his native Gaza on Tuesday after three years in Israeli custody without charges or trial.

Israel has accused Sarsak of being active in the resistance group Islamic Jihad, a claim he has denied.

During his hunger strike, the 25-year-old athlete shed nearly half his weight. He ended the fast last month as part of a deal for his release.

At a Gaza hospital, he emerged from an ambulance and kissed his parents and siblings. Israel had said earlier that he was to be released Tuesday.

More than 300 Palestinians are currently being held under administrative detention orders, which allow Israel to hold a suspect without charge for renewable six-month periods.

Each detention order is renewable indefinitely, and based on secret evidence which the individual and his lawyer are often unable to see.

Sarsak was being held under Israel's so-called unlawful combatants law, a very similar procedure which applies to suspects who are not from the West Bank, including annexed East Jerusalem.

International sports organisations had sought his release and the Palestine Football Association asked UEFA to bar Israel from hosting the 2013 European Under-21 Championship.

FIFA President Sepp Blatter and the global network of players' unions supported Sarsak's case.

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