JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israeli prison guards fired tear gas to quell disturbances by Palestinian inmates on Tuesday after a prisoner serving a life sentence over an attempt to bomb an Israeli cafe died of cancer.
Maysara Abu Hamdeya’s death threatened to raise tensions in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, where Palestinians, who view jailed brethren as heroes in a fight for statehood, have held several protests in recent weeks in support of prisoners.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said Israel had ignored pleas to free Abu Hamdeya, 64, sentenced to life in prison in 2002 for recruiting a bomber who planted explosives in a Jerusalem cafe. The bomb did not detonate.
A Prisons Service spokeswoman said Abu Hamdeya died in a hospital in southern Israel on Tuesday before an early release process, begun last week after doctors diagnosed his cancer as terminal, could be completed.
“The Israeli government in its intransigence and arrogance refused to respond to Palestinian efforts to save the life of the prisoner,” Abbas told members of his Fatah party in the West Bank city of Ramallah.
Abu Hamdeya is the second Palestinian to die in Israeli custody this year. Arafat Jaradat, 30, died after an interrogation session in February. Palestinian officials said he had been tortured, an allegation Israel denied.
News of Abu Hamdeya’s death touched off protests by Palestinian inmates in several Israeli prisons. At Ramon jail, in southern Israel, inmates threw objects at guards, who responded with tear gas, the Prisons Service spokeswoman said.
Three prisoners and six guards were treated at the jail for tear gas inhalation, she said.
In Abu Hamdeya’s West Bank home city of Hebron, masked stone-throwers confronted Israeli soldiers. No serious injuries were reported.
A protest outside the walls of Jerusalem’s Old City turned violent with Palestinian demonstrators throwing stones and Israeli forces firing stun grenades to disperse the crowds. Police said three people were arrested and no one was injured.
The Israeli military said that two rockets fired from the Hamas-run Gaza Strip toward Israel landed inside the Palestinian territory. No group claimed responsibility for the launches which appeared to be a response to Abu Hamdeya’s death.
Such launches have been rare since a November truce between Israel and Hamas ended an eight-day cross border war. Last month an al Qaeda-linked group claimed responsibility for firing rockets into Israel during President Obama’s visit to the region.
Some 4,800 Palestinians are held in Israeli jails. Israel says most of them planned or carried out anti-Israeli attacks. It also holds 178 “administrative” detainees who have been jailed without trial as suspected militants for renewable three- to six-month terms based on classified evidence.
Palestinians seek a state in the West Bank and Gaza with East Jerusalem as its capital - territories Israel captured in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.
Reporting by Noah Browning in Ramallah, Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza and Ori Lewis in Jerusalem, Writing by Jeffrey Heller; Editing by Jason Webb