Hunger striker’s release highlights plight of Palestinian prisoners

Hisham Abu Hawash (R), a Palestinian prisoner who was on a hunger strike in an Israeli prison, embraces his son upon his release in Hebron on February 24,2022. (AFP)
Hisham Abu Hawash (R), a Palestinian prisoner who was on a hunger strike in an Israeli prison, embraces his son upon his release in Hebron on February 24,2022. (AFP)
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Updated 26 February 2022

Hunger striker’s release highlights plight of Palestinian prisoners

Hisham Abu Hawash (R), a Palestinian prisoner who was on a hunger strike in an Israeli prison, embraces his son upon his release in Hebron on February 24,2022. (AFP)
  • Hisham Abu Hawash freed from Israeli detention — but hundreds more remain with agonizing wait for freedom

RAMALLAH: The joy of freed Palestinian prisoner Hisham Abu Hawash was matched only by the delight of his family and friends, as well as the hundreds worldwide who followed his 141-day hunger strike.

Abu Hawash was released on Feb. 24 after spending 16 months in Israeli detention.

The 40-year old construction worker from Dura, Hebron, was first arrested by Israeli forces on Oct. 27, 2020 and placed under a six-month administrative detention order.

Later, the order was arbitrarily extended to Feb. 27, 2022.

Israel released Abu Hawash at the end of his sentence amid growing Palestinian public anger, as well as criticism from international human rights organizations, the EU and UN.

However, Abu Hawash’s case is just one of many. Of the 4,500 Palestinian political prisoners held by Israel, 540 are being detained without trial. Among them are 41 women and 140 children under 18.

Israeli prison authorities imposed strict punitive measures on Palestinian prisoners following the escape of six inmates from Gilboa prison in September 2021.

Qadoura Faris, director of the Palestinian Prisoners Club, told Arab News that inmates face daily problems caused by the prison administration, which is seeking to destroy their collective efforts over the years to improve living conditions in detention.

He said that this process follows an Israeli committee’s recommendation to “make the prisoners’ lives difficult.”

HIGHLIGHT

Israeli prison authorities imposed strict punitive measures on Palestinian prisoners following the escape of six inmates from Gilboa prison in September 2021.

Israel has arrested almost 1 million Palestinians since its occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip in 1967, Faris said.

“No sun has risen since the beginning of the Israeli occupation without daily arrests,” he added.

Detentions are part of a systematic plan to sap Palestinian communities’ will to resist and also to create fear, Faris said.

Despite the relative calm in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, human rights organizations say that even something as minor as a Facebook post can lead to arrests and a trial if Israeli authorities view it as incitement.

Israeli security targets Palestinians aged from 19 to 25 in order to deter them from protests and activism, while fines imposed on prisoners by Israeli courts swell the Israeli budget.

Meanwhile, the struggle of dozens of Palestinian prisoners continues from behind bars, even as dozens are enrolled with universities and are pursuing studies at all academic levels.

Some have contested legislative elections while serving time.

The education initiative was led by Marwan Barghouti, a senior Fatah leader serving five life sentences in an Israeli prison for leading the second Palestinian intifada from 2000 to 2004.

While Palestinians consider those behind bars in Israel “freedom fighters,” many Israelis describe them as “terrorists,” saying they tried to kill Israelis and should die in prison.

The issue touches almost every family and neighborhood, and most Palestinians believe that the Palestinian Authority should make prisoners’ freedom a top priority.

Prisoners and their families hoped the election of US President Joe Biden would kick-start the Israel-Palestine peace process, and that prisoner releases would be a crucial issue in any negotiations.

However, as these hopes fade, it appears only an expected prisoner swap between Hamas and Israel can deliver freedom to those, including the infirm, women and children, who have spent more than 20 years behind bars.


Sudan protesters take to the barricades again

Sudan protesters take to the barricades again
Updated 07 July 2022

Sudan protesters take to the barricades again

Sudan protesters take to the barricades again

JEDDAH: Protesters in Sudan took to makeshift street barricades of rocks and tires for a seventh day on Wednesday as military leader Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan fired the last civilian members of the country’s ruling council.

Burhan, who seized power in a coup last October, has vowed to “make room” for civilian groups to form a new transitional government after he disbanded the ruling Sovereign Council, which he chairs. The council’s members said they had received no formal notification and were surprised to discover that their official vehicles had been taken away.

Protesters have demanded a restoration of the transition to civilian rule despite repeated crackdowns by the security forces, who have in recent days fired live bullets, launched barrages of tear gas canisters and deployed water cannons. At least 114 people have been killed in the crackdown since October.

The transitional government uprooted by Burhan last year had been forged between the military and civilian factions in 2019, following mass protests that prompted the army to oust dictator Omar Bashir.

Sudan’s main civilian alliance, the Forces for Freedom and Change, said Burhan’s latest move was a “giant ruse” and “tactical retreat.” They also called for “continued public pressure,” and protesters returned to the streets of Khartoum on Wednesday.

Democracy campaigners say the army chief has made such moves before. In November, a month after the coup, Burhan signed a deal with Abdalla Hamdok, the prime minister he had ousted in the power grab and put under house arrest, returning him to power.

But many people rejected that pact and took to the streets again, and Hamdok resigned in January warning that Sudan was “crossing a dangerous turning point that threatens its whole survival.”


Jordanian teen receives ‘spine made of rope’, the first-of-its kind in MENA region

Jordanian teen receives ‘spine made of rope’, the first-of-its kind in MENA region
Updated 06 July 2022

Jordanian teen receives ‘spine made of rope’, the first-of-its kind in MENA region

Jordanian teen receives ‘spine made of rope’, the first-of-its kind in MENA region
  • Salma Naser Nawayseh is already making a remarkable recovery following her operation

LONDON: A Jordanian teen received a new spine made of rope in a pioneering operation in Dubai, making her the first recipient of the surgery in the Middle East and North Africa region.

Salma Naser Nawayseh, 13, underwent vertebral body tethering (VBT) surgery last week, in which a piece of rope was run down the entire length of her spine.

Screws are then inserted into each section of the spine to assist in producing the proper tension on the rope and correcting the curve.

VBT is currently practiced in only a few countries, including the US, France, and Germany, but this is the first time the surgery has been carried out in the MENA region.

Salma is already making a remarkable recovery following her operation at Dubai’s Burjeel Hospital. She is not only back to walking, but she also plans to return to tennis soon.

In April 2022, Salma’s parents first noticed the curve in her spine, and she was later diagnosed with scoliosis — a spine condition characterized by an abnormal lateral curve.

Although it can appear in infancy or early childhood, the primary age of onset for scoliosis is between the ages of 10-15 years.

While most cases are mild and do not require invasive treatment, untreated moderate to severe scoliosis can cause pain, increased deformity, and potential heart and lung problems.

Salma presented to Dr. Firas Husban, a consultant orthopedic surgeon at Burjeel Hospital, with a thoracolumbar curve of 65 degrees.Her condition caused back deformity with trunk shortening, a lower back hump, an unleveled pelvis, and back pain.

“Adolescent idiopathic scoliosis is the most common type and is usually diagnosed during puberty” Dr. Husban said.

“The three treatment options for such patients are observation, bracing, or surgery. While bracing is an option in patients with mild forms of scoliosis, in Salma’s case, she required surgery to correct the deformity.” he added.

In 2019, the USFDA approved VBT; a minimally invasive technique that allows for continued growth without fusion while preserving motion and flexibility.

The new treatment allows for fusionless spine correction, allowing the patient to regain full range of motion and grow further. Other benefits include less visible incisions, less trauma, fewer complications, and faster healing.Despite being a newer treatment, the cost of VBT is comparable to other scoliosis treatments.

Not every patient with scoliosis is a candidate for VBT. It would ideally be performed on children over the age of nine and who are still growing.

Furthermore, the procedure is most effective in patients with a 45 to 65 degree curve.

Doctors said Salma was the “perfect candidate” for the procedure because she had not yet reached full skeletal maturity.

Dr. Husban said: “As opposed to spinal surgeries that involve cutting into the back and manipulating the spinal cord and nerve roots, in this surgery, we make discreet incisions in the abdomen through the endoscope.

“Because VBT is minimally invasive, there is little trauma to the delicate tissues of your back. As a result, there is less blood loss, less postoperative pain and speedier recovery time compared to the spinal fusion surgery.” Dr. Husban said Salma’s spinal curve will continue to improve, and the tether will guide the growth of the spine as the body grows.

“The patient is recovering well after the surgery. After two weeks, Salma can go back to school. Four weeks later she can return to full activity with no restrictions and can start playing sports,” he also said.

Salma’s parents are thrilled at the outcome.

“She started walking the second day after surgery. We are happy that our daughter was eligible for this surgery. We look forward to our daughter holding the racket again and resuming tennis.” they said in a statement released by the hospital.


Palestinian families count the cost of soaring prices in West Bank ahead of Eid

Palestinian families count the cost of soaring prices in West Bank ahead of Eid
Updated 06 July 2022

Palestinian families count the cost of soaring prices in West Bank ahead of Eid

Palestinian families count the cost of soaring prices in West Bank ahead of Eid
  • Stores are quiet and purchases are significantly down this year amid public-sector wage cuts and spiraling costs

RAMALLAH: Father-of-eight Mustafa Al-Hadidi, a 48-year-old working man from Ramallah, fears he will not be able to properly participate in Eid Al-Adha celebrations or complete traditional seasonal rituals this year.

His fears seem justified. Prices have soared in recent weeks in the Palestinian Territories, which is now considered one of the most expensive places in the Arab world. The cost of a sheep for sacrifice, for example, has reached $500 in the West Bank. Al-Hadidi said that the spiraling prices are even causing family arguments that sometimes end in families breaking up.

“There is more than one case of divorce that occurred due to family problems caused by high prices, so that the head of the family was unable to provide for the needs of his family members, which fuels problems inside the house until the matter ends in divorce,” he told Arab News.

Al-Hadidi said that the rising prices of Eid Al-Adha supplies mean that families are having to find at least $300 extra to pay for them compared with last year.

“Ramallah has become the most expensive city in the world,” he added, as he accused Palestinian leaders of not doing enough to curb the greed of merchants and control prices.

“The Palestinian government is subordinate to Israel in terms of raising prices and if I were of the new generation, I would have left the country and emigrated.”

According to Al-Hadidi, the Palestinian Authority appears to be indifferent about the rising prices as many of the agencies that import food items have close ties to senior officials within the authority.

After the announcement last month by the PA that public-sector workers would only receive partial wages, Al-Hadidi questioned how they can possibly live on only 70 or 80 percent of already meager salaries.

He pointed out that in previous years, Ramallah was much more crowded and bustling during the days leading up to Eid Al-Adha than it is this year.

Hashem Ibrahim, 58, who owns what he says is the oldest grocery store near Al-Manara roundabout in central Ramallah, told Arab News that Eid purchases are down by about 60 percent compared with last year.

“Citizens’ demand for purchases is deficient and this is limited to purchasing only the necessary items,” he said, adding that rising prices and the delay by the PA in paying salaries to public-sector workers in June have contributed to the fall in trade.

Jihad Abu Eid, the owner of Al-Amin butcher’s shop in Ramallah, told Arab News that demand for meat and sacrifices for Eid Al-Adha is very low this year. He added that he has resisted increasing his prices in the hope that this would attract customers.

He explained that he is absorbing much of the increased cost of meat, with the price of a cow rising by $430.

According to economist Nasr Abdel Karim: “The Palestinian economic crisis is a complex situation that is linked to different circumstances that affect it directly and indirectly, such as the Ukrainian-Russian war which has indirectly affected the economy through the joint trade channel with Ukraine, in addition to the clear and significant impact of the Israeli-occupation policies followed by the Palestinian government.”

Mohammad Shaheen, a spokesperson for the Consumer Protection Association, said that the suggested measures to ease the retail crisis do not fall only on the government alone but also on consumers, who must adjust to a new shopping culture in which they adjust their retail habits to match their incomes and purchasing power.

Ibrahim Al-Qadi, the head of consumer protection at the Palestinian Ministry of National Economy, said efforts are being made to control rising prices, either by sourcing local products as an alternative to import, or through assistance from neighboring countries that can quickly and easily supply the Palestinian market.

Ibrahim Melhem, a spokesperson for the PA, told Arab News: “The government has paid $43 million to support basic commodities such as fuel, electricity and foodstuffs, and has tightened control over merchants and called on them not to raise prices, to mitigate the repercussions of the global food crisis on the local Palestinian market.”


Lebanon plans to send refugees back to Syria within months

Lebanon plans to send refugees back to Syria within months
Updated 06 July 2022

Lebanon plans to send refugees back to Syria within months

Lebanon plans to send refugees back to Syria within months
  • Lebanon has one of the world’s highest numbers of refugees per capita and currently hosts over 1 million Syrians who fled the decade-old conflict

BEIRUT: Lebanon plans to start sending back tens of thousands of Syrian refugees within months over objections by the UN and rights groups, a minister said in an interview on Wednesday.

Lebanon has one of the world’s highest numbers of refugees per capita and currently hosts over 1 million Syrians who fled the decade-old conflict. Officials say the influx has cost Lebanon billions of dollars and further damaged its crippled infrastructure while it struggles with a financial meltdown.

“We are serious about implementing this plan and we hope to do so within months,” Issam Charafeddine, Lebanon’s caretaker minister of the displaced, said. “This is a humane, honorable, patriotic and economic plan that is necessary for Lebanon.”

The Lebanese government’s plan would entail sending back 15,000 Syrian refugees every month.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees and rights groups oppose involuntary repatriation to Syria and say the practice risks endangering the returning refugees.

The UN refugee agency in a press statement denied that it is engaged in negotiations with Beirut and Damascus on refugee returns.

“UNHCR continues to call on the government of Lebanon to respect the fundamental right of all refugees to a voluntary, safe and dignified return,” the statement read.

The UN  estimates that 90 percent of Syrian refugee households live in extreme poverty. But since late 2019, poverty has worsened for both Lebanese and Syrians as the Mediterranean country continues to struggle with crippling economic crisis. Sky-rocketing fuel prices coupled with a currency collapse has meant many essential commodities are now out of reach.

The Lebanese minister on Monday presented the plan to President Michel Aoun. A committee consisting of caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati, Charafeddine, six other ministers and the country’s General Security organization had been working on the proposal since March to gradually return some 1.5 million Syrian refugees from Lebanon.

Charafeddine plans to visit Syria next week to meet Local Administration and Environment Minister Hussein Makhlouf.

He hopes they will agree on a concrete timeline for the plan to repatriate 15,000 Syrian refugees every month. The minister says Makhlouf had told him that the Syrian government could provide temporary shelter for repatriated refugees in areas that are “entirely safe.”

“We have statistics from the Interior Ministry of the names of the displaced, where they live, and where they’re originally from, and so we would return them by neighborhood,” the minister said. He said Lebanon is willing to repatriate refugees in larger numbers if the Syrian government is able to receive them “at a later stage.”

Charafeddine said the Syrian government has agreed to drop charges against former opposition fighters and political opposition.


Iran media says foreign diplomats arrested including Briton

Iran media says foreign diplomats arrested including Briton
Updated 06 July 2022

Iran media says foreign diplomats arrested including Briton

Iran media says foreign diplomats arrested including Briton
  • Revolutionary Guard accused the UK deputy ambassador and other foreigners of ‘espionage’ and taking soil samples from prohibited military zones
  • UK says reports British diplomat has been detained are completely false

TEHRAN/LONDON: Iran’s Revolutionary Guards arrested several foreign diplomats including a Briton, accusing them of “spying,” the Fars news agency and state television said Wednesday.
“The Revolutionary Guards’ intelligence service identified and arrested diplomats from foreign embassies who were spying in Iran,” Fars said, adding that a British diplomat was subsequently expelled from the country.
State television however reported that the Briton was expelled from “the area” where the diplomats had been arrested in central Iran.
Britain’s foreign ministry said on Wednesday that reports that a British diplomat had been detained in Tehran for alleged spying were “completely false.”
“Reports of the arrest of a British diplomat in Iran are completely false,” a British foreign office spokesperson said.
The news comes amid tensions as Iran and world powers struggle to agree on a return to a 2015 nuclear deal.
It also comes as Belgium’s parliament on Wednesday approved a controversial prisoner-swap treaty with Iran in a first reading of a text that still has to be submitted to a full vote to be ratified.
Last month Amnesty International called on the British government to investigate Iran’s six-year detention of dual national Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, denouncing it as “an act of hostage-taking.”
Zaghari-Ratcliffe, 43, who was first detained in Iran in 2016, returned to Britain in March along with fellow dual national Anoosheh Ashoori after London agreed to pay a longstanding debt to Tehran.
Amnesty has compiled a detailed analysis of the case, which it says includes “compelling evidence that Iran’s detention of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe amounted to an act of hostage-taking.”
(With AFP and Reuters)