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The New Arab Staff

Israeli authorities close prison after 73 Palestinian detainees test positive for coronavirus

Palestinians have long accused Israel of failing to protect detainees from coronavirus [Getty]

Date of publication: 3 November, 2020

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Palestinian rights groups accuse Israeli authorities of deliberately neglecting the detainees’ health.

The number of Palestinian inmates infected with the novel coronavirus at the Gilboa Prison in northern Israel has risen to 73, the Palestinian commission of detainees' affairs said on Tuesday morning leading Israeli authorities to close off the detention facility and cancel all family visits.

Only staff may enter or exit the prison, while the infected Palestinian detainees will be transferred to Tzalmon Prison.

There are a total of 360 prisoners in Gilboa Prison, which is divided into four wards. Most of the infections occurred in Ward 3, where 68 out of 90 prisoners have tested positive for Covid-19.

Most of the prisoners on the ward are from the Hamas movement, according to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz. The prison authorities have reported that most prisoners are asymptomatic and all of them are "doing well".

However, the prisoners have accused Israel of neglecting their well-being and failing to put in place safety measures that would halt the spread of coronavirus. They said that they were infected by one of the Israeli wardens.

Last July an Israeli court ruled that the detainees had "no right to social distancing".

Haaretz reported that the prisoners are refusing to leave their cells and have threatened action against the prison authorities if they do not receive adequate medical care.

Palestinians in other prisons have also indicated that they might take action if there are any deaths due to the coronavirus outbreak.

The Palestinian Commission of Detainees' Affairs said that a number of prisoners had come down with symptoms of Covid-19 and informed the prison authorities of this. Authorities ignored this and refused to carry out tests.

The Palestinian Prisoners' Club, which campaigns for the rights of Palestinian detainees, said in a statement that it had "warned for months of the high possibility of a quick and widespread increase in infection" in Israeli jails.

Prisons were a "ready environment" for the spread of coronavirus due to overcrowding and "deliberate neglect", it added.

The statement said that Israel had forced prisoners into "increased isolation" ever since the coronavirus pandemic started earlier this year without providing any safety measures, while detaining more Palestinians, including women, children, the elderly and the sick.

It also said that the Israeli practice of moving Palestinians from one prison to another had helped spread coronavirus.

The Israeli human rights organisation B'Tselem says that there were 4,207 Palestinian detainees in Israeli jails at the end of August 2020. Some are "administrative detainees" held without charge or trial.

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