Palestinians blame Israel as prisoner dies of cancer

The Palestinian leadership on Tuesday blamed Israel for the death of a long-term prisoner with cancer, further hiking tensions over what is already a tinderbox issue.

The death on Tuesday morning of Maisara Abu Hamdiyeh, a 63-year-old prisoner from Hebron suffering from throat cancer, sparked outrage over Israel's failure to release him early on compassionate grounds.

"The death of Maisara Abu Hamdiyeh shows the Israeli government's arrogance and intransigence over the prisoners," Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas told reporters at the start of a meeting of his Fatah movement in Ramallah.

"We tried to get him released for treatment but the Israeli government refused to let him out, which led to his death," Abbas said, with his spokesman laying the blame squarely on the administration of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

"The Palestinian presidency holds the Netanyahu government responsible for the martyrdom of prisoner Maisara Abu Hamdiyeh," Nabil Abu Rudeina said.

An Israeli official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that such remarks would not help the Palestinian cause.

"Instead of speaking the language of confrontation, the Palestinian Authority would be doing its own people a favour if it started to speak the language of peace and reconciliation, because that's the only real path to Palestinian statehood," he said.

Abu Hamdiyeh, who had served more than a decade of a life sentence for his involvement in an attempted attack on Israelis in 2002, died at Soroka hospital in the southern Israeli city of Beersheva, sources on both sides said.

The issue of Palestinians in Israeli prisons is a deeply sensitive one and it frequently sparks mass demonstrations across the occupied territories which tend to develop into violent clashes with the military.

One of the main points of concern is prisoners on long-term hunger strike who are held without charge, or the conditions of their arrest.

Abu Hamdiyeh's death sparked protests in prisons across Israel as well as clashes with the Israeli army in Hebron.

The Israel Prisons Service confirmed he had died of cancer on Tuesday morning, saying disturbances had broken out in four prisons as the news spread -- in Ketziot, Eshel, Ramon and Nafha.

In Hebron, around 300 demonstrators threw stones at troops near the entrance to the Old City, with soldiers firing tear gas and rubber bullets, an AFP correspondent said.

And in Jerusalem's Old City, police arrested three people after dozens of Palestinian demonstrators began throwing stones at Damascus Gate, spokeswoman Luba Samri said.

Qadura Fares, head of the Ramallah-based Prisoners Club, was the first to break news of Abu Hamdiyeh's death, blaming Israel for its "refusal to release him for treatment."

Prisoner affairs minister Issa Qaraaqa said it was a "vicious crime" which had come about due to Israel's "stalling over giving him the right to be treated following a late cancer diagnosis."

Gaza's ruling Hamas said it was following with the "greatest concern" the developments and warned that Israel would "regret its continuing crimes," spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri told AFP.

Abu Hamdiyeh, a senior Fatah official from the preventative security services, began complaining of throat problems about nine months ago. Two months ago he was diagnosed with cancer of the oesophagus.

According to the Prisoners Club, 25 inmates serving time in Israeli jails are currently suffering from cancer. The Palestine Liberation Organisation has warned that more terminally ill prisoners could die.

The Israel Prisons Service said Abu Hamdiyeh was diagnosed in February and was being treated by experts.

"About a week ago, after being diagnosed as terminal, the ISP appealed to the release committee to secure his early release, a process which had been started but not yet concluded," a statement said.

It said he was serving life for his involvement as "a recruiter and dispatcher in an attempted terror attack at Cafe Cafit in Jerusalem in 2002.