Thousands of Palestinians lined the streets of east Jerusalem on Wednesday in a silent show of respect as the body of a long-term prisoner who died in an Israeli jail was brought to the Holy City for an autopsy.
Maisara Abu Hamdiyeh, who had served 10 years of a life sentence for attempted murder, died in an Israeli hospital on Tuesday morning two months after being diagnosed with throat cancer.
The Palestinian leadership has accused Israel of medical negligence, despite moves by the prison service to secure his early release on compassionate grounds, with news of his death sparking angry clashes with the army, notably in Hebron.
As an ambulance brought his body to Abu Dis University in annexed east Jerusalem, thousands lined the streets, watching silently as the convoy passed, some waving Palestinian flags, others holding up the yellow flag of the ruling Fatah movement.
As his body was taken out of the Palestinian ambulance wrapped in the red, white, black and green of the national flag, people began shooting in the air and shouting: “Allahu Akbar!” (God is greatest).
Abu Hamdiyeh’s body was to be taken for a Palestinian autopsy at the university’s medical centre ahead of a funeral in his home city of Hebron on Thursday after the midday prayers.
Across the Palestinian territories, people observed a general strike to mourn Abu Hamdiyeh’s death, and thousands of prisoners turned away their meals in mass protest, the Israel Prison Service (IPS) said.
In Hebron, schools, shops and offices were closed as part of a three-day general strike and stone-throwing youths clashed with the army in the city centre for the second day running, an AFP correspondent said.
Later on Wednesday a few dozen protesters remained, with the army sporadically firing tear gas.
The strike was also fully observed in the northern city of Nablus and in east Jerusalem, but only partly in Ramallah and the Gaza Strip, other correspondents said.
Meanwhile, “4,600 prisoners refused their breakfast,” the IPS told AFP, a figure representing the entire Palestinian prisoner population.
The issue of Palestinians jailed by Israel is highly sensitive, and frequently sparks mass demonstrations across the territories that often develop into violent clashes with the military.
Abu Hamdiyeh’s death sparked an angry outburst from the Palestinian leadership, with president Mahmud Abbas saying it showed the Israeli government’s “arrogance and intransigence” over the prisoners.
“We tried to get him released for treatment but the Israeli government refused,” he said.
The IPS said the procedure to allow for Abu Hamdiyeh’s early release started “about a week ago” but that he died before it could be completed.
Prime minister Salam Fayyad also issued a statement in which he slammed Israel’s “continued policy of medical negligence” and “the delay” in diagnosing Abu Hamdiyeh’s condition.
Gaza’s Hamas rulers warned that Israel would “regret its continuing crimes” and Salafist militants fired rockets over the border in protest, prompting a retaliatory air strike.
According to a March 12 affidavit signed by Abu Hamdiyeh’s lawyer, the prisoner began complaining of severe throat problems in August 2012 but was only given antibiotics and not properly tested until January, when a biopsy showed “cancer cells in the throat area.”
“The prisoner said that until this day, he has not received any treatment and that he has only been given painkillers,” he wrote, saying the prisoner was in acute pain and could not walk unaided.
Abu Hamdiyeh was jailed for life in 2002 on charges of attempted murder in connection with a failed bombing attack on a Jerusalem cafe.