Ramallah - The Palestinian leadership on Tuesday blamed Israel for the death of a long-term prisoner with cancer, hiking tensions over a tinderbox issue closely followed on Palestinian streets.
The death on Tuesday morning of Maisara Abu Hamdiyeh, a 64-year-old prisoner from Hebron who had been suffering from throat cancer, sparked a welter of anger over Israel's refusal 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 Mahmoud 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 spokesperson laying the blame squarely on the government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
"The Palestinian presidency holds the Netanyahu government responsible for the martyrdom of prisoner Maisara Abu Hamdiyeh," Nabil Abu Rudeina said.
Abu Hamdiyeh, who had served more than a decade of a life sentence for his involvement in an attempted attack targeting Israelis in 2002, died at Soroka hospital in the southern Israeli city of Beersheva, sources on both sides said.
The issue of Palestinians serving time 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 sparked condemnation and angry protests in prisons across Israel as well as clashes with the Israeli army in Hebron.
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 angry demonstrators threw stones at troops near the entrance to the Old City, with soldiers firing tear gas and rubber bullets, an AFP correspondent said.
"Prisoner Maisara Abu Hamdiyeh died today," said Qadura Fares, head of the Ramallah-based Prisoners Club, blaming Israel for its "refusal to release him for treatment".
Months of complaining
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 Hamas rulers said it was following with the "greatest concern" the developments and warned that Israel would "regret its continuing crimes", spokesperson Sami Abu Zuhri said.
"The martyrdom of Abu Hamdiyeh reflects the state of grave danger the prisoners are suffering from in the occupation prisons."
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.
Prisoners Club lawyer Jawad Boulos said that in the two months since his diagnosis, Abu Hamdiyeh had frequently lost consciousness and was unable to talk because the cancer had spread to his lymph nodes.
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.
Call for action
"We are still looking at a grave situation with the hunger-striking prisoners and dozens of cases of long-term illnesses in need of treatment," it said.
"The world should move quickly in light of the deterioration of their health."
Israel Prisons Service said Abu Hamdiyeh was diagnosed with oesophageal cancer in February and was being treated by experts at Soroka.
"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.