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Palestinian hunger striker back in coma as ‘blackmail’ debate rages


jail2A Palestinian prisoner on a two-month hunger strike was in a medically induced coma Thursday as a debate raged over a decision by Israel’s top court to suspend his being held without trial.

The High Court’s Wednesday ruling sparked criticism from Palestinian activists, saying it had come too late, and from Israeli ministers, claiming judges had given in to “blackmail.”

The case of Mohammed Allan has captured the attention of both the Israeli and Palestinian public, and put the Jewish state under increasing pressure as the 31-year-old’s health worsened.

Islamic Jihad claims that Allan, a lawyer from the West Bank, is a member of the Palestinian militant movement, as does Israel.

He has been held since November in a form of internment known as administrative detention, which was temporarily lifted by Wednesday’s ruling.

However, the court said he must remain in hospital pending a final decision on his case.

Israeli prosecutors told the court they would release him if he were found to have irreversible brain damage, but the ruling left open the question of what would happen if or when his health improves.

Amir Fuchs, a legal expert at the Israel Democracy Institute, said the ruling did not constitute a larger statement on the issues at hand.

“All the court said is that it received solid evidence that Allan’s cognitive condition deteriorated significantly, therefore he is no longer a danger, and the order should be rescinded,” he told AFP.

Meanwhile, doctors had placed Allan in a coma due to his deteriorating condition before the Wednesday court ruling, a hospital spokeswoman said, meaning he would not have been aware of the decision.

Allan was said to be suffering brain damage, apparently due to a vitamin deficiency caused by his hunger strike. It was unclear whether the damage was permanent.

He had slipped into a coma Friday, prompting doctors to give him fluids, vitamins and minerals intravenously and to place him on a respirator.

His condition improved, and by Tuesday he was conscious and taken off the respirator. He had pledged to resume his hunger strike and even stop ingesting water if his case were not resolved, Palestinian activists supporting his cause said.

– ‘Brink of death’ –

Adalah, a rights group that petitioned the court for Allan’s release, said judges should have acted on the request when it was first filed on August 17.

“The court may have accepted the petition but this occurred after Mohammed Allan’s case became extremely cruel and inhumane, and brought him to the brink of death,” a statement said.

But members of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing government criticised the ruling, seeing it as capitulating to a hunger strike they view as “blackmail.”

Some said a controversial law passed last month allowing for the force-feeding of prisoners in certain circumstances should have been invoked.

“The High Court gave in to blackmail by the terrorist Mohammed Allan instead of applying the law on forced feeding,” Culture Minister Miri Regev tweeted.

Administrative detention allows for internment without charge for six-month periods and can be renewed indefinitely. Israel uses it to hold Palestinians deemed to be security risks, while not divulging what the authorities view as sensitive intelligence.

Allan’s lawyers argued that his condition negated authorities’ claims that he posed a danger.

Around 340 Palestinians are now held in administrative detention, and detainees have regularly gone on hunger strike to protest.

Jewish extremists have also been held under the measure, though in far fewer cases.

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