Palestinians demand prisoner release

Thousands of Palestinians have demonstrated on behalf of prisoners held by Israel and denounced their own government for failing to secure their freedom.

    An estimated 7000 Palestinians are being held in Israeli prisons

    Warning on Sunday that peace would be impossible without their release, several hundred relatives also marked Palestinian Prisoners Day by staging a rally outside the Ram Allah offices of Prime Minister Ahmad Quraya.


    Quraya emerged from his office to insist that the release of the estimated 7000 Palestinian prisoners held by the Israelis was one of his top priorities.


    "There are only two issues in our programme. The first is to liberate the land. The second is to liberate the prisoners," Quraya said, calling the prisoners heroes.

    He was heckled, however, by some family members, including one woman who shouted at him: "We hear this from you all the time. We don't want speeches, we want action."


    Behind bars


    Israel released 500 Palestinian prisoners shortly after a summit in February between Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas.


    It also agreed in principle to the release of a further 400 Palestinians, but they remain behind bars.


    Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades wants
    Palestinian legislators to resign

    Miriam Shihada, who has been unable to visit two of her sons in an Israeli prison for the past four years, said she was exasperated.


    "They only give us speeches. We are very tired and just want our sons released," she said outside Quraya's offices.


    One of the main prisoners' organisations said the continued presence of thousands of Palestinians in Israeli jails would scupper the chance of peace in the Middle East.


    "We demand from the PA that we have a real date for the release of the prisoners," the central committee for prisoners families said in a statement.


    "If the PA cannot give us a date, they must declare to the world that there can be no peace with Israel."


    Central issue


    Palestinian Minister for Prisoners' Affairs Sufyan Abu Zayda told Aljazeera that the prisoners' issue was central to the Palestinian struggle.


    "The efforts exerted so far have not been sufficient to give them their rights," he said.


    "In half an hour, if
    we find any of the [Palestinian MPs]
    in their offices, there will be blood, and then our only language will
    be the bullet"

    Zakariya al-Zubaidi,
    Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades' West Bank chief

    n Sunday, dozens of members of a Palestinian resistance group blocked traffic in the main square of the West Bank city of Jenin to demand money for families of Palestinians killed in fighting with Israel.


    The head of al-Aqsa's Martyrs Brigades in the West Bank, Zakariya al-Zubaidi, said his men had "decided to stay until the Palestinian Authority pays the stipends [owed to relatives of those killed by Israeli occupation forces]".


    The Palestinian Authority has made piecemeal payments to the families, but the group is demanding monthly allotments.


    Al-Zubaidi told the crowd he was ready to march on the offices of local parliamentarians. "In half an hour, if we find any of them in their offices, there will be blood, and then our only language will be the bullet."

    Brigades' demands

    The Brigades described Palestinian legislative council MPs as incompetent and asked them to resign, Aljazeera reported.


    Fighters threatened through loud speakers to force the MPs to resign if they declined to comply.


    Resistance groups held rallies to
    mark Palestinian Prisoners Day

    At the same time, the group's leader demanded jobs for Palestinians recently released from Israeli prisons and for relatives of those killed during the nearly five-year-old intifada.


    The fighting has devastated the Palestinian Authority and weakened its financial stability.


    Thousands of Palestinians were thrown into poverty and joblessness as a result of the violence after Israeli military operations and government policy dealt a near death blow to Palestinian Authority institutions - one of the main internal employers - and barred most Palestinians from entering Israel to work.


    Before fighting erupted in September 2000, more than 150,000 Palestinians worked in Israel. Today, just a few thousand West Bank and Gaza Strip Palestinians have permits to work in Israel.


    Hunger strike

    The protests in Jenin came as Palestinian detainees began their second and final day of a hunger strike in Israeli jails to protest against their imprisonment.


    The protesters hope to increase
    pressure to get prisoners freed

    The prisoners hope to pressure the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority to do more to secure their release.


    Isa Qaraqia, head of the Palestinian Prisoners' Club, told Aljazeera the strike came as a message, warning the international community that the situation inside the prisons had become very difficult.


    Speaking to Aljazeera by phone, Palestinian prisoner Abu Muhammad criticised existing conditions.
    "Israeli occupation authorities constantly wage psychological warfare against prisoners through solitary confinement, visit bans and imprisonment of such Palestinian leaders as Marwan al-Barghuthi, Maluh and others," he said.


    "Some of us have been here for 30 years."

    SOURCE: Aljazeera + Agencies


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