'Frail' Palestinian hunger striker sent to prison from hospital

Jerusalem (AFP) –

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A Palestinian prisoner on hunger strike for 12 weeks was moved from an Israeli hospital back to prison on Friday, the prisons service said, despite international concern for his health.

Maher al-Akhras, 49, was arrested in the Israeli-occupied West Bank in July, and has since been detained without charge.

He is being held in what is known as administrative detention, a policy that Israel uses to hold suspected militants without charge for periods of up to six months, renewable indefinitely.

He is suspected by Israel of links to the Palestinian militant group Islamic Jihad.

The married father of six went on hunger strike in protest at the practise of detention without trial.

"Mr. Al-Akhras is now in very frail condition," Michael Lynk, UN special rapporteur for the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories, said in a statement Friday.

"Recent visits by doctors to his hospital bed in Israel indicate that he is on the verge of suffering major organ failure, and some damage might be permanent," Lynk wrote.

Al-Akhras was transferred from prison to a civilian hospital near Tel Aviv in September as his health deteriorated, but on Friday he was taken to the medical wing of a nearby prison.

His lawyer said the reasons given for the move were "the pretext that he refused to cooperate with the medical staff" of the hospital, and that his numerous visitors posed a risk to the spread of coronavirus there.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said in a statement Thursday it had been "closely monitoring" the situation, including visiting Akhras on Thursday.

"From a medical perspective, he is entering a critical phase," wrote Yves Giebens, head of the ICRC's health department in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories.

"We are concerned about potentially irreversible health consequences."

Lynk called for Israel's administrative detention policy to be abolished.

"It is a penal system that is ripe for abuse and maltreatment," he wrote.

Israel says the procedure allows authorities to hold suspects and prevent attacks while continuing to gather evidence, but critics and rights groups say the system is abused.

Around 355 Palestinians were being held under administrative detention orders as of August, including two minors, according to Israeli human rights group B'Tselem.