Palestinian officials, citing a lawyer who visited Abu Hamdiya, said he had complained of throat pain since August 2012 but that inadequate treatment had led to a critical delay in the diagnosis.
Sivan Weizman, a spokeswoman for the Israel Prison Service, said a committee would examine the handling of Abu Hamdiya’s case, as in every instance of a prisoner’s death.
She said that Abu Hamdiya had been treated since his diagnosis in February and that prison authorities applied to a parole board for his early release after he was found to be terminally ill. He died before the process could be completed, she said.
The death set off protests by Palestinian inmates, who pounded on doors and hurled objects from their cells, Weizman said. She added that in one facility, wardens used tear gas to disperse inmates protesting in the yard.
Abu Hamdiya, a retired general in the Palestinian security services, had been arrested at the height of the Palestinian uprising in 2002 and was serving a life sentence for dispatching a suicide bomber to a Jerusalem cafe, according to Israeli officials. The attacker’s explosives-laden vest failed to detonate.
Abu Hamdiya’s death drew sharp responses from Palestinian leaders, who have sought to highlight the Palestinian prisoner issue after a recent wave of street protests in the West Bank in support of hunger-striking inmates and in response to the death of another prisoner under interrogation.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas condemned what he called the “arrogance” of Israeli authorities, who he said had rejected attempts by Palestinian officials to secure Abu Hamdiya’s early release for medical treatment.
The Palestinian prime minister, Salam Fayyad, denounced “the continued policy of medical negligence of Israeli prison authorities” and called for international monitoring of Israeli jails.
A statement from the office of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused Palestinian officials of exploiting the prisoner’s death to escalate tensions. In the West Bank city of Hebron, Abu Hamdiya’s home town, stone-throwing protesters confronted Israeli soldiers, and a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip landed in southern Israel but caused no damage or casualties, the army said.
Early Wednesday, Israeli warplanes responded to the rocket attack by striking targets in Gaza, the Associated Press reported. It was the first airstrike launched by Israel since an informal cease-fire ended eight days of cross-border fighting in November between Israel and Gaza’s Islamist Hamas rulers.
An Israeli military statement issued Wednesday said its planes targeted “two extensive terror sites” with “accurate hits.” Palestinian officials said that no one was hurt in the airstrikes and that no damage was reported in northern Gaza.
The air raids followed the third successful rocket attack on Israel since the November cease-fire. The attack was the first since rockets were fired during President Obama’s visit to Israel two weeks ago.
There was no assertion of responsibility for the rocket fire. The Israeli military says it holds Hamas responsible for any attack on the Jewish state. The Israeli military said 1,500 rockets were fired at Israel in November.