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Israeli authorities face backlash as prominent Palestinian hunger striker dies in custody

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Khader Adnan, a prominent Palestinian prisoner, died in Israeli custody after nearly three months of hunger strike, according to what the Israeli Prison Service announced on Tuesday.

Adnan, a leader in the armed Islamic Jihad movement, is the first Palestinian prisoner to die since Palestinian prisoners began waging long hunger strikes nearly a decade ago.

His death raises the possibility of renewed violence between Israel and Palestinian armed groups as violence escalates in the West Bank.

Shortly after his death was announced, Palestinian armed groups in the Gaza Strip fired a barrage of rockets into southern Israel. Palestinians have called for a general strike in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and protests are expected later in the day.

Palestinian prisoners have been on hunger strike for many years to protest their arrest and to obtain concessions from Israel. This tactic has become a last resort in the resistance against what Palestinians view as unfair prisons. Prisoners often become seriously ill from their refusal to eat, but deaths are rare.

Palestinian prisoners are seen as national heroes and any threat to them while in Israeli detention can lead to tensions or violence. Israel has often acceded to its demands to release prisoners or shorten their sentences after they launched life-threatening hunger strikes.

Adnan, 45, began his strike shortly after his arrest on February 5.

He had gone on hunger strike several times after previous arrests. This included a 55-day strike in 2015 to protest his detention under so-called administrative detention, where suspects are held indefinitely without charge or trial.

Many Palestinians have embarked on a prolonged hunger strike in recent years to protest their administrative detention. In most cases, they were eventually released by Israel after their health deteriorated greatly. None of them died in custody, but many sustained irreversible neurological damage.

The Israeli Prisons Service said Adnan had been charged but refused medical treatment while the legal proceedings proceeded. She added that he was found unconscious in his cell early on Tuesday and taken to hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

Palestinian factions called a general strike in the Gaza Strip, Jerusalem and West Bank cities on Tuesday, as schools and businesses closed for what organizers described as a day of “general mourning”.

The Israeli military said the rockets fired from the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip landed in an open area and caused no damage. The Islamic Jihad armed group said in a statement that “our fighting continues and will not stop.”

Israel fought an 11-day war with Palestinian groups in Gaza, including Islamic Jihad, in May 2021.

Meanwhile, in the West Bank, where Israeli-Palestinian violence has escalated over the past year, Israeli officials said a suspected Palestinian shooting attack lightly wounded an Israeli man.

Israel currently holds more than 1,000 Palestinian detainees without charge or trial, the highest number since 2003, according to the Israeli human rights organization Hamoked.

That number increased in the past year as Israel carried out near-night arrest raids in the occupied West Bank following a series of deadly Palestinian attacks in Israel in early 2022.

Palestinians and rights groups say the system is widely abused and denies due process, with the secret nature of evidence making it impossible for administrative detainees or their lawyers to mount a defence.

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