High-profile Palestinian hunger striker dies in Israel custody

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Khader Adnan, a high-profile Palestinian prisoner, has died in Israeli custody after a nearly three-month hunger strike, Israel’s prison service announced Tuesday.

Adnan, a leader in the Islamic Jihad armed group, is the first Palestinian prisoner to die since Palestinian inmates began staging protracted hunger strikes about a decade ago.

His death raises the potential for renewed violence between Israel and Palestinian armed groups as violence surges in the West Bank.

Shortly after his death was announced, Palestinian armed groups in the Gaza Strip fired a volley of rockets into southern Israel. Palestinians called for a general strike in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, and protests were expected later in the day.

Palestinian prisoners have for years gone on lengthy hunger strikes to protest their detentions and to seek concessions from Israel. The tactic has become a last recourse for resistance against what Palestinians see as unjust incarcerations. The prisoners often become dangerously ill by refusing food but deaths are rare.

Palestinian prisoners are seen as national heroes and any perceived threat to them while in Israeli detention can touch off tensions or violence. Israel has often conceded to demands to release prisoners or shorten their sentences after they staged life-threatening hunger strikes.

Adnan, 45, began his strike shortly after being arrested on Feb. 5.

He had gone on hunger strikes several times after previous arrests. That included a 55-day strike in 2015 to protest his arrest under so-called administrative detention, in which suspects are held indefinitely without charge or trial.

Several Palestinians have gone on prolonged hunger strikes in recent years to protest being held in administrative detention. In most cases, Israel has eventually released them after their health significantly deteriorated. None have died in custody, but many have suffered irreparable neurological damage.

Israel’s prison service said Adnan had been charged but had refused medical treatment while legal proceedings moved forward. It said he was found unconscious in his cell early Tuesday and transferred to a hospital where he was pronounced dead.

Palestinian groups called for a general strike in the Gaza Strip, Jerusalem and in cities across the West Bank on Tuesday, with schools and businesses closing for what organizers called a day of “general mourning.”

The Israeli military said the missiles fired from the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip fell in open territory, causing no damage. The Islamic Jihad armed group said in a statement that “our fight continues and will not stop.”

Israel fought an 11-day war with Palestinian groups in Gaza, including Islamic Jihad, in May 2021.

Meanwhile, in the West Bank, where Israeli-Palestinian violence has surged over the past year, Israeli officials said a suspected Palestinian shooting attack lightly wounded an Israeli man.

Israel is currently holding over 1,000 Palestinian detainees without charge or trial, the highest number since 2003, according to the Israeli human rights group HaMoked.

That figure has grown in the past year as Israel has carried out almost nightly arrest raids in the occupied West Bank in the wake of a string of deadly Palestinian attacks in Israel in early 2022.

Palestinians and rights groups say the system is widely abused and denies due process, with the secret nature of the evidence making it impossible for administrative detainees or their lawyers to mount a defense.

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