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Israel offers to deport frail Palestinian prisoner

Friday - 4/12/2013, 12:08pm  ET

Tarek Issawi and Laila Issawi, pose for a portrait next to pictures of their son Samer Issawi at their home in the east Jerusalem neighborhood of Issawiyeh, Thursday, April 11, 2013. Detainee Samer Issawi has been on a hunger strike since August when he was detained. His health condition is considered grave and he has been hospitalized now for several weeks. Issawi was sentenced to 26 years in prison for his involvement in a series of shooting attacks targeting Israeli police cars and students at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Issawi was also freed as part of the 2011 prisoner exchange and was re-arrested for violating his release conditions. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)

Associated Press

JERUSALEM (AP) -- Israel has offered to deport a hunger-striking Palestinian prisoner to Europe or a U.N.-member country, an Israeli official said Friday, in an effort to reach a compromise over the high-profile detainee.

But a lawyer for the 33-year-old hunger striker says he has refused to be deported, and a European Union official denied that Israel had officially made the offer to deport him.

Samer Issawi, who is from Jerusalem, has been refusing food for the past eight months to protest his detention. He has been drinking water and receiving infusions, which has kept him alive despite his frail health. On Thursday, he issued a rare plea urging Israelis to visit him in the hospital, parts of which were published in the liberal Israeli daily Haaretz.

The Israeli official, who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity in line with regulations, said the prime minister's office offered to deport Issawi after EU and U.N. officials expressed concern about his health. The Israeli official said neither body had replied to the offer.

The official said if an EU or U.N.-member country was willing to take him, Israel would be more than happy to let him go, but that so far, no country had offered.

He said the proposal came up recently in a work conversation between officials of the EU and Israel and in parallel between Israel and U.N. officials.

An EU spokesman in Israel, David Kriss, said the EU had not received an official Israeli deportation offer.

A spokeswoman for the U.N. was looking into the matter.

Jawad Bulous, a lawyer for Issawi, said the prisoner had turned down a previous offer to be sent to the Gaza Strip, and would not accept deportation to any other country. "He refuses all of these options," Bulous said.

Issawi was sentenced to 26 years prison for his role in a series of shooting attacks targeting Israeli police cars and students at Jerusalem's Hebrew University.

He was released from prison as part of a 2011 exchange that freed hundreds of Palestinians -- many of them militants involved in deadly attacks -- in exchange for the release of an Israeli soldier held by Hamas-backed militants.

But Issawi was arrested again for violating the conditions of his release by entering the nearby West Bank. He is expected to carry out his entire sentence as a result. The Israeli official said Issawi was re-arrested for trying to reestablish a Hamas cell in the West Bank.

Israel has reached similar deals in the past to deport Palestinian prisoners to the Gaza Strip or other countries, including prisoners released in the 2011 exchange.

Also this week, a Palestinian poll released by the Jerusalem Media and Communications Centre showed a decline in support for rocket attacks on Israel among residents of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

It found that 36.8 percent of 1,200 Palestinians polled believe negotiations with Israel are the best way to achieve an independent Palestinian state, and 60 percent believe violence damages Palestinian national interests.

Palestinian support for firing rockets from Gaza at Israel dropped sharply to 38.4 percent from 74 percent in December 2012 after eight days of fighting with Israel. Israel says that round of fighting was sparked in part due to an increase in attacks from Gaza including almost daily rocket barrages.

The poll had a margin of error of 3 percentage points.

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