First Gaza family visits to Israeli jails in five years
GAZA CITY: A group of Palestinians from Gaza arrived in Israel on Monday to visit relatives in Israeli prisons for the first time in five years.
The group of 40 relatives crossed from Gaza into Israel via the Erez terminal in the early hours of Monday, and were en route to Ramun prison in southern Israel.
Emotions were running high among the relatives as they waited to cross into Israel, in a trip being facilitated by the International Committee of the Red Cross.
Among those crossing was the mother of prisoner Mohammed Hamdiya, who said she was almost overwhelmed with excitement at the thought of seeing her son again.
“You can’t imagine my joy at being able to meet my son Mohammed soon, to be able to see his face again after all these years,” she told AFP.
Fatima Nashbat was on her way to see her husband Mohammed Jaber for the first time in nearly six years, she said.
“I haven’t seen my husband or heard his voice or even news of him for years,” she said. “I don’t know what the meeting will be like, but of course my excitement is indescribable and I can’t wait to see him.”
In all, 24 prisoners from Gaza are to receive relatives from the coastal territory, Israel Prisons Service spokeswoman Sivan Weizman said of the visit which will last two hours.
Israel agreed to restart the visits on a trial basis as part of a deal between the prison authorities and Palestinian detainees to end to a mass hunger strike earlier this year.
The prisoners went on strike to demand an easing of the conditions of their detention, including greater access to lawyers and relatives, and an end to solitary confinement.
The Red Cross welcomed Monday’s developments and expressed hope the visits would resume on a regular basis.
“This is a first step and we hope that visits by residents of Gaza will resume in full,” Juan Pedro Schaerer, head of the ICRC in Israel and the Palestinian territories, said in a statement.
“We have repeatedly called for the resumption of family visits, which are a lifeline for detainees and their families. Under international humanitarian law, Israeli authorities have an obligation to allow the detainees to receive family visits.”