RAMALLAH, West Bank (AP) — Hundreds of Palestinians, including dozens of masked gunmen firing into the air, took to the streets and stores shuttered across the occupied West Bank to protest the death of a veteran prisoner in Israeli captivity.
Palestinian factions had called for the general strike and urged people to confront Israeli troops after Nasser Abu Hamid died of lung cancer.
Abu Hamid, 50, was a former leader of the Al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade, the armed wing of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah party. He had been serving multiple life sentences since 2002 after being convicted in the deaths of seven Israelis during the second Palestinian intifada, or uprising against Israel’s occupation in the early 2000s.
Palestinian officials had called for his release as his health deteriorated in recent months.
Prisoners held by Israel, even those convicted in violent crimes, are widely seen as heroes in Palestinian society for resisting an Israeli military occupation that is now in its 55th year. Israel considers them terrorists.
Hundreds of people joined a march in honor of Abu Hamid in Ramallah, the seat of Abbas’ government. Demonstrators hoisted Palestinian flags and yellow Fatah flags, while others held posters of Abu Hamid next to Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque. A group of black-clad gunmen marched through the city, firing into the air.
Businesses across the West Bank shuttered for the day, and smaller demonstrations took place in several West Bank towns and cities, as well as in the Gaza Strip.
Abu Hamid’s death came as one of the deadliest years in Israeli-Palestinian fighting in recent decades draws to a close, with the prospects of negotiating a two-state solution and ending Israel’s open-ended military rule over the Palestinians increasingly remote. No serious clashes were reported Tuesday.
The Israel Prison Service confirmed Abu Hamid’s death. It said he was terminally ill and hospitalized a day earlier. The service added that “as in every case of this kind, the incident will be investigated.”
The Palestinian Prisoners Club, a group representing former and current prisoners, said that around 4,700 Palestinians are imprisoned by Israel for security offenses and illegal entry to Israel. It said Abu Hamid was diagnosed with cancer in August 2021.
Palestinian officials blamed Israel for Abu Hamid’s death. Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh accused Israel of “deliberate medical negligence.”
The militant group Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, called for a “a real escalation in the occupation prisons” in response to his death.
The Prison Service said Abu Hamid had received “close and regular treatment” by prison and outside medical staff since his diagnosis.