October 26, 1997 in Nation/World

Palestinians Demand Freedom For Prisoners Bethlehem Protesters Clash With Police

Nasser Shiyoukhi Associated Press

Israeli soldiers fired tear gas and rubber bullets Saturday at stone-throwing protesters who were marching for the release of Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails.

A larger but peaceful protest was staged in the West Bank city of Nablus, and several hundred Palestinians marched in the town of Hebron. A much smaller demonstration, with a few dozen protesters, was held in Arab east Jerusalem.

In Bethlehem, where the clash erupted, one of about 400 protesters was taken to the hospital after being hit in the leg with a rubber bullet. Ten other protesters were treated at the scene for the effects of tear gas.

Israel is holding about 3,000 Palestinian political prisoners, a third of whom never have been tried.

In Nablus, about 1,000 Palestinian protesters marched to the offices of the International Red Cross and presented a letter asking for help in securing the prisoners’ freedom.

Amna Zagub, whose son Wael has been in an Israeli prison for five years, said Yasser Arafat’s Palestinian Authority was neglecting the issue.

“Our leadership is so busy with the other issues and seems to have forgotten about our sons, and we need to raise our voices and change that,” Zagub said.

Hisham Abdel Razig, a Palestinian National Assembly member who deals with the issue of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails, said stalled peace talks were to blame.

“We have not forgotten our prisoners. The problem is that Israel has stopped moving forward with the peace negotiations and, therefore, there is no progress with the release of prisoners,” Razig said.

A letter from spiritual leader Sheik Ahmed Yassin of the radical Islamic group Hamas, who recently was released from an Israeli jail, was read to the Nablus protesters. Yassin said that although he was happy to be free, he would not rest until other Palestinians were freed as well.

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