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Israel accused of negligence over death of cancer-stricken Palestinian prisoner

Bassam al-Sayeh, 47, who was diagnosed with cancer in 2011, had been in detention without charge for almost four years
Bassam al-Sayeh had been in Israeli detention since 2015 (Screengrab)

Campaigners for Palestinian prisoners have accused Israel of “medical negligence” after a detainee suffering from cancer and heart disease died on Sunday in an Israeli hospital.

Bassam al-Sayeh, who was 47, was diagnosed with cancer in 2011 but had been held in detention without ever being charged since 8 October 2015, a spokesperson for the Palestinian Prisoners Club (PPC) told Middle East Eye.

“Sayeh’s status for the last four years was a ‘detainee'. The investigation with him ended, but his case was still running in the courts, and he was not judged on charges,” the spokesperson said.

Sayeh’s health condition deteriorated in the last two months and he also suffered from heart and lung diseases, the PPC said in a statement.

“The Israeli occupation authorities bear full responsibility [for] al-Sayeh’s killing, and on the crimes against the prisoners, such as physical and psychological torture, and medical negligence,” the group said.

On 29 July, he was moved to Al-Ramleh prison’s clinic, but he was moved again in August to the Assaf Harofeh hospital near Tel Aviv, where he died on Sunday.

Israeli authorities are currently holding Sayeh’s body.

Sayeh was investigated by Israel over the alleged killing of two Israeli settlers near their hometown of Nablus in the occupied West Bank in 2015.

Israel's Prison Service confirmed Sayeh's death in the hospital and said he was "affiliated to the Hamas movement".

"He served a prison sentence for murder, stone-throwing, kidnapping, seizing [a] weapon, and being a member of a non-recognised organisation."

It said that he was chronically ill during the period of imprisonment.

Sayeh's wife was also detained in 2015, and he was arrested while attending her court hearing in October 2015, weeks before she was released without charge.

Responding to news of Sayeh's death, Ismail Haniyeh, a leader of Hamas, told reporters in the Gaza Strip that Israel "one day... will pay the price for not only its crimes but also its illegal presence on the land of Palestine. This occupation will end."

PLO calls for investigation

The legislative body of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) called for an investigation into the death.

"This crime is added to the series of Israeli crimes against Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails due to deliberate medical negligence," the Palestinian National Council of the PLO said in a statement.

Since the 1967 Middle East war, at least 221 Palestinian prisoners have died in Israeli prisons, with at least 65 of those cases involving a lack of medical care, according to the PPC.

The group says that about 700 Palestinian prisoners currently require treatment for health issues, with 160 requiring constant medical care.

In 2014, the Institute of Palestine Studies estimated that about 80 percent of the adult male population in the West Bank and Gaza Strip had been subjected to some form of Israeli detention since 1967.

There were then about 5,700 Palestinian prisoners languishing in Israeli jails, including 48 women and 230 children.

Almost 500 Palestinian prisoners are also currently being held in "administrative detention" without charge.