Israel blocks Gaza roads after Palestinian rocket, mortar fire

Wednesday, August 25th 2004, 6:45 am
By: News On 6

U.N. voices concern over hunger-striking Palestinians in Israeli jails


Associated Press Writer

JERUSALEM _ A U.N. envoy urged Israeli authorities on Friday to ensure the well-being of thousands of Palestinian prisoners on their 13th day of a hunger strike to demand family visits and better prison conditions.

A statement from United Nations Mideast peace envoy Terje Roed-Larsen also called on both the Israelis and the prisoners to renew efforts to end their dispute.

Larsen reminded Israeli authorities of their obligations under a U.N. convention on the treatment of prisoners and ``relevant international human rights instruments which provide for the protection of detainees and prisoners.''

He urged Israel to ``comply with its international obligations and to make every effort to find, with the prisoners, an appropriate resolution to the hunger strike.''

Human rights workers say prison staff are withholding necessary medical care from the striking prisoners and using improper psychological pressure to try and break the protest.

``We totally deny these allegations,'' prisons' service spokesman Ofer Lefler told The Associated Press on Friday. ``The Red Cross makes almost daily visits to every cell where prisoners are fasting and the medical treatment we give to all prisoners is among the most advanced in the world.''

Among the approximately 2,600 strikers' demands are transfer to prisons along the borders between Israel and the West Bank and Gaza Strip or in Israeli-held parts of the Palestinian areas, which would facilitate family visits.

Most Palestinians are barred from entering Israel, making it impossible for prisoners' relatives to reach the prisons where they are held.

The Israel Prisons' Service says it is holding about 4,000 Palestinian ``security prisoners.'' Human rights organizations say that about half have been convicted while the rest are either awaiting trial, accused of varying degrees of involvement in hostilities toward Israel, or held under special regulations allowing internment without trial.

Violence erupted again in the Gaza Strip on Friday when a Palestinian rocket plowed into a Jewish settlement, damaging a house but causing no casualties, a settler spokesman said.

Palestinians said Israeli forces maintained a closure of main Gaza roads imposed on Thursday after militants fired rockets at an Israeli town.

The Israelis have been unable to stop rocket fire into Israel, despite frequent army operations in northern Gaza, the launching zone.