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Israel, Gaza launch heaviest strikes since truce

By Ian Deitch

Associated Press

Published: Wednesday, April 3 2013 11:08 a.m. MDT

In Ramallah, protesters waved pictures of the man that succumbed to cancer and chanted "with our souls and blood we will redeem the prisoner."

Israel's chief military spokesman, Brig. Gen. Yoav Mordechai, accused the Palestinian Authority, which governs in the West Bank, of exploiting the death to "resume popular protests."

Prisons Authority spokeswoman Sivan Weizman said Abu Hamdiyeh was treated by Israeli specialists and died in a hospital in Beersheba. She said the prison service asked the parole board to release Abu Hamdiyeh last week after his cancer was diagnosed as terminal last, but the appeal was still being processed at the time of his death.

Weizman said almost all of the 4,600 Palestinian prisoners detained by Israel refused their breakfasts Wednesday morning in a symbolic act of protest.

As news of Abu Hamdiyeh's death spread Tuesday, Palestinian prisoners in several jails began banging on their cell doors and hurling objects. Later, protests spread to Jerusalem and parts of the West Bank where protesters hurled fire bombs and rocks at soldiers.

Tensions are high in Israeli lockups, where thousands of Palestinian security prisoners are being held. Some have staged hunger strikes and Palestinians have held large protests demanding their release.

After decades of conflict with Israel, the issue of prisoners is emotionally charged in Palestinian society. The Palestinians revere the prisoners as standing up to Israeli occupation. In Israel, the prisoners, who are serving time for crimes ranging from stone throwing to mass murder, are seen as terrorists.

In a separate development, Israel's defense minister issued a tough warning to battling forces in Syria, saying Israel would respond to any cross-border provocations.

On Tuesday, the Israeli military said a mortar shell exploded on its side of the frontier in the Golan Heights. The military said its soldiers returned the fire and said it scored a direct hit. Mortar shells and machine gun fire have sporadically hit Israeli territory in the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights since Syria descended into civil war following its March 2011 uprising.

"Israel has no intention of ignoring fire from Syria toward Israeli territory, incidental or not, and will respond with a firm hand," Yaalon said. "As far as we are concerned, the Syrian regime is to be held responsible for everything happening in its territory."

Israel, which has warily watched the fighting in Syria raging close to its frontier, is concerned that some of the al-Qaida affiliated groups fighting alongside the rebels against the Syrian government forces could set their sights on Israel when the civil war ends.

Syria has kept its frontier with Israel quiet for most of the past 40 years, even while providing support and refugee for Israel's bitterest enemies, including the Iranian-backed Hezbollah.

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