Palestinian enters uncharted territory with 89-day fast

AP News
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Posted: Feb 22, 2016 2:03 PM

RAMALLAH, West Bank (AP) — A Palestinian detainee has entered uncharted medical territory with a hunger strike of 89 days -- longer than protest fasts by other Palestinians or by prisoners in Northern Ireland in 1981, an advocacy group said Monday.

Mohammed al-Qeq, 33, a long-time activist in the Islamic militant Hamas group, is under observation at an Israeli hospital, but has refused all treatment unless he is released.

A doctor who visited him earlier this month described his condition as "extremely grave" and said al-Qeq could barely speak or even hear.

Al-Qeq's protest highlights Israel's divisive practice of holding hundreds of Palestinians at a given time without charges or trial, usually over unspecified allegations of involvement in militant activities.

Al-Qeq began his hunger strike Nov. 25 to win release from so-called administrative detention. Israel says the tactic is an important security tool, especially at a time of increased Israeli-Palestinian violence.

Al-Qeq's fate was raised in recent top-level meetings, including talks Sunday between Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.

Nickolay Mladenov, the international peace envoy to the Middle East, told the U.N. Security Council last week that he is "deeply concerned" about al-Qeq and demanded that all administrative detainees held by Israel — 584 as of December — be either charged or released.

Physicians for Human Rights-Israel, an advocacy group, said Monday that al-Qeq has been on a hunger strike longer than any other Palestinian detainee or any of the participants in 1981 protest strikes by Irish Republican Army prisoners held by Britain in Northern Ireland.

Ten of the Irish hunger strikers died after extended fasts, the longest lasting 73 days. The previous two longest hunger strikes by Palestinian detainees were 66 and 67 days.

Al-Qeq is in "unknown territory" medically because of the length of his fast, said Amani Dayif of Physicians for Human Rights-Israel.

"All medical literature depends on experiences from the past, and in all the experiences, there is no case of any hunger striker who has taken the Irish model, only drinking water, for this long," she said.

Al-Qeq twice received dietary supplements against his wishes or while unconscious, for a total of five days, according to his wife, Faiha. She said he refused all supplements when he regained consciousness.

She said she supports her husband's decision to continue the strike and avert the possibility of repeated open-ended detentions.

"It is true, his life is at risk, but what is the alternative?" she said.

Dr. Mahmoud Mahamid, who visited al-Qeq at the Israeli hospital on Feb. 4, said that day that al-Qeq "reiterated his refusal to be examined or treated as long as he is not released." Mahamid said they communicated by exchanging notes.

A hospital spokeswoman said she was not allowed to discuss al-Qeq's condition.

Earlier this month, Israel's Supreme Court suspended al-Qeq's detention, leaving him in legal uncertainty.

Kadoura Fares, the head of the Palestinian Prisoners' Club, said Monday that al-Qeq's lawyers demand that Israel set a firm release date of May 21, and are awaiting an Israeli response.

Israel alleges that al-Qeq is involved in militant activities linked to Hamas.

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Associated Press writers Karin Laub in Amman, Jordan, and Ian Deitch in Jerusalem contributed to this report.