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Palestinian prisoner on hunger strike poses challenge for Israel

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JERUSALEM — A Palestinian prisoner who has refused food for two months to protest his detention without trial is in “immediate danger of death,” according to his attorneys and a doctor from an Israeli medical rights group who examined him at the hospital in Israel where he is being treated.

Khader Adnan, 33, accused by the Israeli authorities of being a prominent activist in the militant Islamic Jihad group, has been on a hunger strike since Dec. 18, a day after he was arrested at his home in the village of Arrabe, near the northern West Bank city of Jenin.

The protracted hunger strike, said to be the longest by a Palestinian prisoner, has confronted Israeli authorities with a dilemma. If Adnan dies, it could trigger a response from Islamic Jihad and unrest in the West Bank, where there have already been demonstrations of support for the prisoner. Meeting his demand to be freed could set a precedent that Israeli security officials worry might inspire similar actions by other jailed Palestinians.

The case has gone to Israel’s Supreme Court and has drawn urgent expressions of concern from human rights groups in Israel and abroad, which have demanded that Adnan be released or charged and brought to trial.

On Friday, Catherine Ashton, the European Union’s foreign policy chief, voiced “great concern” at the reports of Adnan’s deteriorating condition and reiterated “the E.U.’s long-standing concern about the extensive use by Israel of detention without formal charge.”

Israel says it uses detention with trial, or “administrative detention,” as a preventive measure in cases in which a court proceeding could expose sources of intelligence. The prisoner is held on the basis of classified evidence that cannot be challenged by his or her attorney, for a period of up to six months that can be indefinitely renewed. Currently, 309 Palestinians are being held without charge, according to official figures cited by rights groups.

Adnan, who has been jailed several times since 1999, was given a four-month administrative detention order on Jan. 8. His appeal against the order was rejected last week following a military court hearing at Ziv Medical Center, the hospital in the northern Israeli city of Safed where he is being treated under guard.

After Adnan was arrested, he began his hunger strike to protest what he said was abusive treatment under interrogation, and he continued the strike against his detention without charge.

A lawyer representing him, Jawad Boulus, said he had petitioned the Supreme Court on Wednesday for his release, but that no date had been set yet for a hearing. The petition includes a medical opinion from a doctor who examined Adnan on behalf of Physicians for Humans Rights-Israel, which concluded that the prisoner is “in immediate danger of death.”

“An absolute hunger strike in excess of 50 days causes the decomposition of muscles . . . and the creation of toxins in the body,” the opinion said. “Death may occur suddenly due to heart failure, or as the result of infection following the collapse of the immune system. . . . A fast in excess of 70 days does not permit survival.”

The examining doctor wrote that Adnan had agreed to an infusion of liquids with salts, glucose and vitamins but that it was not sufficient to prevent death from a protracted hunger strike.

Raymond Farah, the director of the department where Adnan is being treated, said in a hospital statement that he was stable and “there is no immediate threat to his life, but he is at a critical point,” and that “cardiac arrhythmias . . . can appear at any stage, as well as infections and additional phenomena that can appear suddenly.”

According to a 2006 study by the British Medical Association, cited in a statement on Adnan’s case by Human Rights Watch, “the final stage” of a hunger strike occurs after 45 to 75 days “due to cardiovascular collapse or severe arrhythmias.” The study said that during hunger strikes by IRA prisoners in Northern Ireland in 1981, “death generally occurred between 55 to 75 days” after the strikes began.

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