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Red Cross rebukes Israel after lawmaker confronts prisoners' families on bus

GAZA (Reuters) - The Red Cross said on Monday Israel has a duty to guarantee the safety and dignity of Palestinian families visiting prisoners, after a right-wing lawmaker was filmed shouting abuse aboard a bus taking relatives to a family visit in an Israeli jail.

The legislator, Oren Hazan, boarded the bus at the Gaza border with video crews in tow. He said on Twitter he told the relatives that the prisoners were “terrorists who belong in the ground”. In a video clip on social media, he shouted at one prisoner’s mother that her son was an “insect” and a “dog”.

“An insect?,” she yelled back. “My son is the best of men. A dog is whoever calls him a dog.”

Hazan has a record of staging publicity stunts, including crashing a welcoming ceremony for visiting U.S. President Donald Trump. He once agreed to stage a fistfight at the border with a member of Jordan’s parliament, only to cancel it on the orders of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The families on the bus were on their way to Nafha prison in southern Israel from the Gaza Strip in a convoy escorted by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). In a statement, the ICRC said it “takes very seriously what happened today”.

“Families have the right to visit their loved ones in a dignified manner,” Suhair Zakkout, Gaza spokeswoman for the ICRC, said in the statement. “It is the responsibility of the competent authorities to ensure that the visits take place safely and without interference.”

Hazan, a member of Netanyahu’s Likud party, said he confronted the relatives to promote legislation to cancel such family visits until Israeli prisoners in Gaza and the remains of Israeli troops were returned.

Hamas, the dominant militant group in the Gaza Strip, has acknowledged holding three Israeli civilians who crossed into the enclave. In addition, Israel is seeking the return of the remains of two soldiers it says were killed in a 2014 Gaza war.

Hamas has demanded the release of its members who were re-arrested and imprisoned by Israel in 2014 for alleged security offences after being released in a 2011 swap for a captured Israeli soldier.

Israel’s Prisons Service declined comment on the incident.

Maximum security Nafha prison, in the southern Israeli desert, is used mainly to hold Palestinians convicted of anti-Israeli security offences. The convoy completed its journey to the facility.

Qadoura Fares, chairman of the Palestinian Prisoner Club that advocates on behalf of Palestinians held by Israel, branded Hazan a “fanatic” but said Israel’s government “bears responsibility for this brutal action”.

Additional reporting by Jeffrey Heller in Jerusalem; Writing by Jeffrey Heller; Editing by Peter Graff