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Red Cross urges release of 'at-risk' Palestinian prisoners in Israeli prisons amid coronavirus concerns

Palestinians have called for the release of prisoners from Israeli jails [AFP]

Date of publication: 26 April, 2020

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The Red Cross and other leading NGOs have raised concern over more than 5,000 Palestinian prisoners that are susceptible to contracting the novel coronavirus.

The International Committee of the Red Cross has called on Israel to release Palestinian prisoners that are at risk of contracting the novel coronavirus.

The charity urged for those over 65 or with health conditions to be released from Israeli prisons, where some 5,000 Palestinians are being held amid concerns of medical negligence by Israeli authorities.

Israel says it has taken efforts to prevent outbreaks in prisons, including regular sterilisation, checking temperatures of staff daily, and stopping visits from family and lawyers.

Those released from prisons are taken to a hotel for a two-week quarantine before rejoining their family homes, though many like Palestinian prisoner Amir Naji, meet their families before being sent to isolation.

The appeal comes amid accusations of Israeli neglect toward Palestinians in prison, which was cemented last week after 23-year-old prisoner Naji Barghouthi reportedly died.

"The 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."

Israel has nearly 15,000 Covid-19 cases, while in the Palestinian territories around 350 have been reported, though testing rates are lower.

Palestinians are fearful that the disease will be brought into the West Bank by Palestinians returning from Israel, including the tens of thousands who work there and those released from prisons.

Naji, who was jailed for a year after being accused of throwing stones at soldiers during a protest, was not released due to coronavirus but because his term ended.

He said there was real fear of an outbreak in the prisons.

Read also: How Palestine's Red Crescent is taking charge of the coronavirus response

"Life for prisoners in Israeli prisons is tough, but after the spread of corona(virus), their pain multiplied," said Naji, who holds American and Palestinian citizenship.

The Palestinian Prisoners' Club, a Ramallah-based NGO, said dozens of prisoners had been released since the coronavirus arrived in Israel.

Like Naji, they were all tested after being released and sent to quarantine, said the NGO's Amani Sarahneh.

She said one released prisoner, who had been detained for just four days, later tested positive for the virus.

Israel denied the claim, saying the man was healthy when he exited the prison.

The Israeli Prisons Service told AFP it had "prepared for months to prevent the entry and spread of the coronavirus in its facilities."

Each prisoner was given two multi-use face masks and new prisoners are isolated for 14 days, it said, condemning what it alleged to be "false reports" in Palestinian media and elsewhere.

Earlier this month, the Secretary-General of the UN expressed concern for Palestinians imprisoned by Israel.

Antonio 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.

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