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Veteran Palestinian prisoner Walid Daqqa dies in Israeli custody

Daqqa, famed for his writing on the Palestinian cause, was imprisoned in 1986 and due to be released in 2023 before his sentence was extended
In this archive photo from Gaza City in 2023, a child carries a poster calling for Daqqa's release (AFP)

Palestinians are mourning the death of veteran prisoner Walid Daqqa, who died of terminal cancer in Israeli custody on Sunday.

The 62-year-old was initially sentenced to 37 years in prison in 1986 for his alleged role in the killing of an Israeli soldier and was due to be released in 2023.

However, in 2018, an Israeli court extended his detention to 2025 accusing Daqqa of smuggling mobile phones into his prison for use by fellow prisoners.

Daqqa was diagnosed with terminal bone marrow cancer in December 2022 and his family and human rights activists had unsuccessfully appealed to Israeli authorities to release him early.

Sanaa Salameh, his wife, has long accused Israel of systematic medical negligence, which exacerbated his illness.

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Daqqa was previously diagnosed with leukemia in 2015.

In 2023, amidst attempts to release Daqqa from prison due to his illness, Israel's Minister of National Security Itamar Ben-Gvir wrote Daqqa "should end his life in prison".

The Palestinian activist had established a reputation in prison as one of his community's leading intellectuals and writers, authoring several fiction and non-fiction books.

Daqqa was born in the town of Baqa al-Gharbiyye, a majority Palestinian town, situated in Israel close to the occupied West Bank.

'Wreckage of memory'

In 2020, he fathered a daughter with Salameh using sperm that had been smuggled out of prison.

Daqqa never got to hold his daughter, who he named Milad, but she was the subject of a number of letters he published.

"The prison, like fire, feeds on the wreckage of memory ... and my memory ... you are my message to the future, after prison months sucked the nectar of the life months, and prison years equated with the life years," he wrote in one message to Milad, before she was born.

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Human rights activists have long raised concerns about the treatment of Palestinians in Israeli custody.

Around 8,000 Palestinians are currently held by Israel in conditions described as a "never-ending nightmare".

In a recent Middle East Eye report on prison conditions for Palestinians, one prisoner interviewed said that the recitation of the Quran and Islamic prayers had been banned by Israeli authorities.

Food rations had also been cut to the bare minimum by their Israeli captors.

After news of Daqqa's death broke, tributes poured in for him from across the spectrum of Palestinian society.

In Ramallah in the West Bank, crowds gathered to mourn Daqqa while carrying posters emblazoned with his face.

In a post on the social media platform X, the Palestinian group Addameer, which provides legal support for Palestinian prisoners, wrote: "Daqqa departs, leaving the world with the most beautiful and vivid images of struggle and humanity, embodied in his daughter Milad, who against all odds came into the world against the guard's will, despite the walls surrounding them from all sides."

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