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Two Palestinians on hunger strike nearing death, lawyer says

By Kevin Flower and Kareem Khadder, CNN
May 7, 2012 -- Updated 0936 GMT (1736 HKT)
A Palestinian boy in Jerusalem holds a portrait Friday of a relative who's being held in an Israeli jail.
A Palestinian boy in Jerusalem holds a portrait Friday of a relative who's being held in an Israeli jail.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Bilal Diab, 27, and Tha'er Halahlah, 33, have entered day 70 of a hunger strike
  • Their lawyer: Condition for both has gone "from very bad to extremely worse"
  • Up to 2,000 Palestinians detained in Israeli prisons staging a mass hunger strike

(CNN) -- The lawyer representing two Palestinian prisoners entering the 70th day of a hunger strike said his clients were nearing death and accused an Israeli high court of procrastination in delivering a ruling that could save their lives.

"Their medical condition has gone from very bad to extremely worse," Jamil al-Khatib said of clients Bilal Diab, 27, and Tha'er Halahlah, 33,

"I believe what the court is doing here is trying to break the will of both prisoners so they will back down in their hunger strike."

Palestinians protest detention policy

Diab and Thaer are among the estimated 1,600 to 2,000 Palestinians detained in Israeli prisons staging a mass hunger strike to protest prison conditions and the practice of administrative detention, a controversial Israeli military practice that allows authorities to detain people indefinitely.

Palestinian hunger strike, protests grow

The process also allows for detention based on secret evidence, and there is no requirement to charge the detainees or to allow them to stand trial.

Diab and Halahlah, members of the Gaza-based militant group Islamic Jihad, have been in custody for nine months and 22 months, respectively, under administrative detention.

An Israeli foreign ministry spokesman, Yigal Palmor, told CNN that both men "were arrested for their direct involvement in promoting terror" and suggested that administrative detention constituted "the only available means to thwart the danger" the men posed to Israel.

Looking pale and weak, both men appeared in wheelchairs before the Israeli high court Thursday while their lawyers petitioned the judges that they be released, arguing that their continued detention was illegal and that their deteriorating medical conditions should be taken into consideration.

The court was expected to rule on the matter Sunday, but no decision was forthcoming.

Amany Daify, a project coordinator for Physicians for Human Rights, an Israeli group advocating on behalf of the hunger striking prisoners, said both prisoners "are in a life-threatening condition" and continued to refuse to be given minerals or liquids.

"There is no documented history of any person who survived without food or supplements beyond 75 days," Daify said.

According to a spokeswoman for the Israeli Prison Service, Diab is being held at an Israeli hospital while Halahlah is being cared for at prison medical facility.

More than 4,500 Palestinian prisoners are in Israeli prisons for a variety of offenses, ranging from rock-throwing to murder. Of these, about 300 are being held in administrative detention, according to rights groups.

The vast majority of prisoners refusing to eat began their protest on April 17, while a handful have been without food for longer.

While hunger strikes are not a new tactic of Palestinian resistance, a series of recent and high-profile cases have brought increased attention to the practice and served as a rallying cry for Palestinians, who have staged multiple protests in the West Bank and Gaza in support of prisoners.

Guy Azriel contributed to this report

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