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'No more light touch for Hamas prisoners'

    Palestinian women in Ramallah call this week for the release of relatives held in Israeli jails
    Palestinian women in Ramallah call this week for the release of relatives held in Israeli jails

    Human rights groups will not challenge the Netanyahu government’s new regime for Hamas prisoners in Israeli jails.

    A committee headed by former Justice Minister Professor Daniel Friedman recommended that Hamas prisoners should be denied academic studies, media access and have their family visits limited. “We might be the only democracy in the Middle East,” explained Professor Friedman, “but we don’t have to be the only suckers.”

    The committee was set up last month following the breakdown of the talks over a prisoner exchange deal to release captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. The government voted to approve the committee’s recommendations. “It makes no sense that Shalit is being held there without being allowed to see his parents,” said Interior Minister, Meir Sheetrit, “while Hamas prisoners are living here almost as if in a summer camp.”

    The committee also recommended not allowing physical contact between the prisoners and family members during visits, and banning television, radio and newspapers. Previous proposals to deny the prisoners visits from the International Red Cross and to limit rights to receive and write letters were not accepted, as they might have been blocked by the Supreme Court.

    Israeli civil rights lawyer Michael Sfard said that he does not believe that any organisations would try to challenge the government’s decision. “I don’t think that being allowed to watch television or touch their children during visits are fundamental rights,” explained Sfard. “As it is, they have very few visits, since the families from the Gaza Strip are not allowed into Israel and only a few relatives from the West Bank are allowed to visit — once every six months.”

    Despite the last month’s intense efforts, no real progress has been made in the Egyptian-brokered talks with Hamas. The Palestinians insist that a list of 450 convicted murderers be released in exchange for Gilad Shalit. Ehud Olmert’s special emissary, Ofer Dekel, will continue to lead the negotiations under the new administration.

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