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Four Palestinians in Israeli prison have allegedly contracted coronavirus: Group

The prisoners reportedly contracted the virus after contact with an Israeli investigator who had COVID-19, a rights group has said
Palestinian inmates in Israel's Megiddo prison are fearful of a coronavirus outbreak as four cases have been detected (AFP)

Israeli authorities have informed Palestinians held at the Megiddo prison in Israel that four cases of the novel coronavirus have been detected inside the facility, according to a Palestinian group.

The Palestinian Prisoners' Society (PPS), an organisation advocating for Palestinians imprisoned by Israel, said on Thursday that four Palestinian prisoners in Megiddo Sections 5, 6 and 10 were confirmed to have contracted the virus through one Israeli investigator. 

According to the organisation, the infections started with one inmate who recently came into contact with an Israeli officer during interrogations in the city of Petah Tikva.

“The prison administration has officially informed the inmates about the infections, and everyone is on high alert,” PPS said in a statement shared with journalists. 

“Prisoners are facing today the danger of infection from prison guards and investigators,” it added.

A spokesperson of Israeli Prison Services (IPS) said in a press statement Thursday that the prison has no confirmed cases of the virus. 

“In the Megiddo prison, four detainees without symptoms were isolated according to the Ministry of Health guidelines after suspicion that they had come into contact with a patient a week ago,” the spokesperson said.

Accountability

The father of 23-year-old Ahmed Nassar, one of the infected detainees, said he was informed of the situation on Tuesday during a trial session from which his son was absent.

“My son was in good health before he was detained,” Bassam told Middle East Eye.

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“We hold the Israeli authorities fully responsible for everything that befalls my son.”

He said that the Israeli authorities informed the family that Ahmed was put in quarantine but did not reveal the location, including whether or not he was still in prison or taken to a hospital.

The authorities also refused to disclose the results of Ahmed’s medical tests.

“We demand to see his tests, to know the location of the quarantine, and to receive more information on his health,” Bassam said, calling on the International Committee of the Red Cross to follow up on the cases of Ahmed and the other detainees.

Ahmed had undergone daily rounds of questioning for 14 days. The court had extended his detention pending an investigation, despite being suspected of having been infected, according to Bassam.

The PPS called on authorities to intervene to protect the inmates from COVID-19, notably by providing disinfectants and taking preventive measures as recommended by the World Health Organisation.

By Wednesday, the Palestinian Authority announced 47 cases of the virus - which has infected 221,851 people and killed nearly 9,000 globally since December - in the occupied Palestinian territories. 

Quarantines

Reports of coronavirus cases in Israel's notoriously overcrowded prisons have emerged since last week, with rights groups warning that poor living conditions and medical negligence in prisons may compound the danger of an outbreak. 

The Palestinian Prisoners' Affairs Committee has reported that one prisoner in Ashkelon prison had come into contact with an Israeli doctor who had tested positive for the virus. 

Qadri Abu Bakr, the head of the committee, announced that the unidentified prisoner, along with 19 others, was being held in quarantine as a result. 

In Ramla prison in central Israel and the Russian Compound detention centre in Jerusalem, prisoners have reportedly been put into quarantine after coming into contact with Israeli prison officers who were suspected of being exposed to the virus. 

Meanwhile, the IPS has announced plans to evacuate a prison near the Egyptian border to be used for quarantining prisoners exposed to the virus, and halt visits for Palestinian families of prisoners. 

Palestinians, however, are concerned that the Israeli government and prison authorities are not taking proper measures to prevent the spread of the virus and treat those who may become sick.  

Some 5,000 Palestinian prisoners languish in Israeli jails, according to prisoners' rights group Addameer, with a number of Palestinians dying in custody over the years due to medical negligence