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Family joins hunger strike as Palestininan political prisoner Maher al-Akhras close to death.

THE family of Palestinian hunger-striker Maher al-Akhras announced on Saturday that they would join his action after Israeli authorities refused to allow them to visit him, despite fears that the political prisoner is close to death.

Mr Akhras’s mother, his wife and their three eldest sons started a solidarity hunger strike outside the room where he is being detained at the Kaplan Medical Centre in Rehovot.

They have been there for a number of days but have been prevented from seeing Mr Akhras despite growing fears for his health.

Last week Physicians for Human Rights Israel (PHRI) warned that even if he ended his fast, the damage to Mr Akhras’s vital organs could be permanent.

On Thursday the International Committee for the Red Cross urged Israeli authorities “to find a solution that will avoid any loss of life.”

Head of the ICRC health department in Israel & the occupied Palestinian Territories Yves Giebens said that the body had been closely monitoring the situation.

“From a medical perspective, he is entering a critical phase,” he said.

But US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo waded in to defend Israeli authorities for holding Mr Akhras, saying that “Israel has the right to defend itself” and can introduce any security measures it deems fit.

On Saturday night UN high commissioner for human rights in the occupied territories Michael Links called on Israel to release Mr Akhras. 

“Recent visits by doctors to his hospital bed in Israel indicate that he is on the verge of suffering major organ failure, and some damage might be permanent,” he said.

Mr Akhras started his hunger strike on July 27 after he was jailed on an “administrative detention” order, meaning he can be held indefinitely without knowing the charges against him or being brought to trial. 

According to the rights group B’Tselem at least 355 Palestinians were being held on such orders at the end of August, including two children.

On Friday an Israeli court cancelled a previous decision to freeze his administrative detention. Multiple bids by his lawyers to the Israeli Supreme Court have failed.

Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and occupied West Bank have staged a number of protests and sit-ins demanding Mr Akhras be freed, and Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh has also demanded his immediate release.

The Palestinian Islamic Jihad group is reported to have put out a call for the strengthening of its forces in the wake of the deterioration in Mr Akhras’s health.

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