Pressure grows on Israel to release vulnerable Palestinian Prisoners

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Amid concerns over the conditions of hundreds of Palestinians held in Israeli prisons during the coronavirus outbreak, many international bodies ramped up pressure on Israel not to discriminate against thousands of vulnerable Palestinian prisoners facing high-risk exposure to the coronavirus.

The International Committee of the Red Cross urged for those over 65 or with health conditions to be released. “Those measures are meant to reduce the number of detainees and to limit the potential exposure for the most vulnerable,” said David Quesne, head of the ICRC’s mission in Jerusalem. “We would like them released to the extent possible and if not then removed from the risk.”

A group of United Nations human rights experts on Friday called on Israel to release thousands of vulnerable Palestinian prisoners facing high-risk exposure to the coronavirus. Women, children, elderly and those with preexisting medical conditions are among the most vulnerable, according to experts.

“There are currently more than 4,520 Palestinian prisoners, including 183 children, 43 women and 700 detainees with preexisting medical conditions in Israeli jails,” they noted. “They remain dangerously vulnerable in the context of the current pandemic and the relative increase in the number of transmission rates in Israel,” the U.N. experts said. They also expressed serious concerns over reports that Israeli authorities are impeding efforts to combat the spread of COVID-19 in east Jerusalem.

So far Israel says no cases have been detected among inmates. But the Palestinians said one released prisoner was infected and the justice ministry has called for an investigation.

In one reported incident, Israeli authorities recently raided a testing clinic in the densely populated Palestinian neighborhood of Silwan under the pretext that its testing kits were provided by the Palestinian Authority. Israel has also arrested doctors, they said. The experts said that over the past month, Israel had released hundreds of Israeli prisoners as a preventive and protective step. It had not, however, applied similar measures to Palestinian prisoners.

Israel’s perpetual violations of Palestinians’ basic rights in its prisons, including torture, repression and assaults, have long been under the spotlight. Last month, Israel’s detention authority decided to reduce rations of bread, water and meat for Palestinian prisoners, exposing once again the ongoing systematic violations of human rights in Israeli jails.

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