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UN chief urges protection of Palestinians held in Israeli jails as Covid-19 spreads

Antonio Guterres called on Israel to protect Palestinian prisoners [Getty]

Date of publication: 17 April, 2020

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Antonio Guterres has called on Israel to protect Palestinian prisoners as the coronavirus pandemic continues.
The Secretary-General of the UN has expressed concern for Palestinians imprisoned by Israel as the novel coronavirus disease continues to spread.

Antonio Guterres on Friday said he has asked the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Nikolay Mladenov, to urge Israel to ensure the protection of Palestinian prisoners during the coronavirus outbreak.

Guterres stressed that Israel must carry out coronavirus tests on the sick prisoners and to socially distance them from other prisoners because they are vulnerable to catching the deadly disease.

Guterres' letter was in response to a letter sent by the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO)'s secretary general, urging world leaders to pressure Israel.

In the letter sent on 30 March, Saeb Erekat said Israel, as an occupying power, has the responsibility to protect the Palestinian detainees and to release those who are considered vulnerable, including the elderly, sick and women, according to Palestinian Authority's official news agency Wafa.

Read more: Coronavirus under occupation: Palestinian detainees in Israeli jails fear the worst

Palestinians across all spectrums have been campaigning for the release of prisoners inside Israeli jails.

"We reiterate our demand for the release of all Palestinian political prisoners, jailed for their resistance to occupation and apartheid. The coronavirus pandemic only further underlines the present urgency of this demand," Samidoun, a Palestinian prisoner solidarity group said in a statement.

Earlier this month, Hamas and Israel have hinted at the possibility of a prisoner swap, with Israel potentially releasing some prisoners vulnerable to coronavirus.

Israel currently holds around 5,700 Palestinian prisoners, including 200 children, 44 women, five members of the Palestinian Legislative Council, and 27 journalists.  470 Palestinian prisoners are held in "administrative detention" without charge or trial.

Friday also marks Palestinian prisoner day, which Palestinians this year are commemorating online. Leftist Palestinian prisoner organisation Samidoun launched a Twitter campaign using the hashtags: #FreeOurPrisoners and #WeAreWithYou.

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