May 26, 2008 / 12:04 PM / 11 years ago

ICRC urges Israel to allow prisoners family visits

JERUSALEM, May 26 (Reuters) - The International Committee of the Red Cross called on Israel on Monday to allow Palestinians in the Gaza Strip to visit relatives in Israeli jails, a practice suspended a year ago after Hamas seized the territory.

"While we acknowledge Israel’s security concerns, we strongly believe that they alone cannot justify the all-out suspension of family visits to detainees," Christoph Harnisch, head of the ICRC’s delegation in Israel and the Palestinian territories, said in a statement.

Israeli officials were not immediately available to comment.

Israel has sharply restricted the passage of people and goods at its border crossings with the Gaza Strip since Hamas Islamists took over the coastal enclave in fighting against Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah faction last June.

The Israeli closure also effectively prevented Gazans from visiting family members jailed in Israel, which holds about 11,000 Palestinian prisoners, about 700 of them from the Gaza Strip.

"This measure is depriving both detainees and their relatives of an essential life line," Harnisch said.

The ICRC, which has been organising Palestinians’ prison visits in Israel since the 1967 Middle East war, said the border restrictions further exacerbate "the daily hardship faced by the Palestinian population trapped in the Gaza Strip".

Israeli leaders have pledged to continue to allow humanitarian aid into the Gaza Strip but have said Palestinians in the territory should not expect to lead normal lives while militants fire rockets into southern Israel.

Egypt has been trying to broker a truce to end the border violence, a deal which the Palestinians hope will secure the opening of the crossings. (Writing by Avida Landau)

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