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Death of prisoner sparks anger in Hebron

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Ruth Pollard in Hebron

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Palestinians bury dead youth, prisoner

Hundreds attend the funeral of a Palestinian prisoner and two teenagers whose deaths raised tensions in the West Bank and Gaza strip.

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In a display of anger and grief, thousands of Palestinians took to the streets in Hebron and the northern West Bank to mourn the deaths of three men and protest against the ongoing detention of more than 4600 prisoners in Israeli jails.

Sparked by the death of 64-year-old Maysara Abu-Hamdiya, who was buried in Hebron's Martyr's Cemetery on Thursday, the clashes raised fears the resentment that has been simmering across the West Bank could erupt into large-scale violence.

Mr Hamdiya, who was serving a life sentence for attempted murder for a failed bombing attack on a café in Jerusalem, died from throat cancer in Israel's Soroka Hospital, triggering allegations that he had been denied appropriate treatment and endured considerable pain for some time.

Funeral anger: A Palestinian demonstrator throws a petrol bomb towards Israeli security forces.

Funeral anger: A Palestinian demonstrator throws a petrol bomb towards Israeli security forces. Photo: AFP

Shops throughout Hebron closed their shutters as the funeral procession moved slowly through the city streets, as the flags of most Palestinian factions fluttered in the brisk spring breeze.

Outside the Abu Aisha Mosque, where his body was taken for prayer, Mr Hamdiya's sister Itidal described her brother's painful last months.

“When he was in hospital his hands and feet were tied to the bed, even though he was so sick he could not move,” the 62-year-old English teacher said.

Palestinian demonstrators clashed with Israeli security forces.

Palestinian demonstrators clashed with Israeli security forces. Photo: AFP

“He received no proper treatment at all and he was suffering severely from pain in his throat … he asked to see specialists but they refused,” she said.

After the funeral, the burning smell of tear gas filled the air in downtown Hebron as Palestinian protesters hurled rocks across the divided city's border and Israeli Defence Force soldiers retaliated with "crowd control measures" including sound bombs, rubber bullets, water cannons and tear gas.

By late afternoon a Palestinian Red Crescent ambulance officer said he had already taken 18 Palestinians suffering bullet wounds to hospital, as the sounds of sirens echoed through the streets.

Mr Hamdiya, who was a general in the Palestinian security forces, was buried with full military honours, a row of masked gunmen firing shots into the sky in his memory.

His sister said his death should be a lesson to Israel "to release all Palestinian prisoners, not only those who are sick".

Although he experienced severe throat pain in August 2012, Mr Hamdiya was not diagnosed with throat cancer until January 2013.

In a letter released to the media, his lawyer Rami Al-Alami, who last visited him on March 31, said despite repeated requests Mr Hamdiya was not taken to a hospital until January and was only transferred to Soroka Hospital, where he died, on March 12.

“The prisoner said … he has not received any treatment,” Mr Al-Alami said in his affidavit.

He could not sleep "day or night from the pain" and was so weak he could not walk without the assistance of other prisoners, the lawyer said.

Israeli health officials said appropriate care was provided to Mr Hamdiya.

However the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said Israel was “fully responsible for the death” of Mr Hamdiya, who he said “died due to medical negligence by the Israeli prison services” by firstly delaying his diagnosis and then withholding appropriate treatment.

The issue of Palestinian prisoners is a particularly sensitive one – it is rare to find a family not touched by the incarceration of a relative, sometimes without charge.

According to Palestinian Authority figures there are the 1500 prisoners suffering illness, including 25 with cancer, there are also several prisoners in serious condition after undertaking long-term hunger strikes to protest their treatment.

It is the second time in as many months that the death of a Palestinian prisoner in custody has prompted widespread unrest across the West Bank.

Arafat Jaradat, 30, was arrested on February 18 on suspicion of throwing stones at Israeli soldiers. He died five days later in Megiddoon after a prolonged interrogation by Israel's internal security service, Shin Bet.

In the outrage that erupted following Mr Hamdiya's death this week, two young Palestinian men were killed, each shot in the chest by Israeli soldiers after allegedly hurling firebombs at a checkpoint near the Israeli settlement of Inab in the northern West Bank.

The two from the village of 'Anabta, 18-year-old Amer Ibrahim Naji Zarboul and 19-year-old Naji Abdul-Salam Naji Bilbaisi, died late on Wednesday.

“A group of Palestinians charged a military post near the settlement of Inab … they ran up to the post and started throwing firebombs,” Lieutenant-Colonel Peter Lerner told Fairfax Media.

“This was a serious act of violence met with lethal force,” he said.

Colonel Lerner confirmed the IDF was conducting an “operational debriefing to look into the situation” but said “we don't see any fault in the actions of the soldiers”.

The unrest reached as far as Gaza, where several rockets were fired from Gaza early on Thursday morning – one reached Israel causing no injuries, the IDF said.

It followed rocket fire from Gaza on Tuesday. That also caused no injuries but led Israel to carry out its first air strike on Gaza since a truce mediated by Egypt and the US ended a week of air strikes and rocket attacks in November.

The rising unrest comes as US Secretary of State John Kerry is due to return to Jerusalem and Ramallah to try to press both sides back to negotiations that stalled in 2010.

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