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AP Interview: Israel doctors against force-feeding

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Photo - Israeli Medical Association president Dr. Leonid Eidelman speaks during an interview with The Associated Press at his office in Ramat Gan, Israel, Thursday, June 19, 2014. Dr. Eidelman says in an interview that doctors "will absolutely refuse to cooperate'' if parliament passes legislation permitting the force-feeding of prisoners on hunger strike. (AP Photo/Dan Balilty)
Israeli Medical Association president Dr. Leonid Eidelman speaks during an interview with The Associated Press at his office in Ramat Gan, Israel, Thursday, June 19, 2014. Dr. Eidelman says in an interview that doctors "will absolutely refuse to cooperate'' if parliament passes legislation permitting the force-feeding of prisoners on hunger strike. (AP Photo/Dan Balilty)
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RAMAT GAN, Israel (AP) — Israeli doctors "absolutely refuse" on ethical grounds to force-feed hunger-striking Palestinian prisoners, the head of the country's medical association said in an interview ahead of a planned parliament vote on allowing the practice.

Draft legislation on force-feeding could receive final approval as early as Monday. The vote comes as a hunger strike by dozens of Palestinian detainees is entering its third month. Eighty of the hunger strikers have been hospitalized.

Force-feeding is "a kind of torture," Dr. Leonid Eidelman, the president of the Israeli Medical Association, told The Associated Press on Thursday. "This law is unnecessary, it can be harmful and ... I believe it will not be implemented because Israeli doctors are not going to cooperate with this law."

Eidelman's group has won support from the World Medical Association which appealed to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to reconsider the legislation.

Force-feeding is "violent, often painful and ... the most unsuitable approach to save lives," leaders of the WMA, an umbrella of national medical associations, wrote Thursday.

Under the bill, a judge could sanction force-feeding if an inmate's life is perceived to be in danger. The government argues that a death in custody could trigger unrest in prisons or the Palestinian territories and harm Israel's security.

Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon said force-feeding would also reduce incentives to launch hunger strikes and deprive detainees of a means to "threaten and blackmail the system."

Since 2012, hundreds of Palestinian prisoners have staged hunger strikes to press for release or improve prison conditions. On April 24, dozens of detainees began a new hunger strike to push Israel to end the practice of administrative detentions without charges of trial.

Of some 5,000 Palestinians currently held for politically motivated offenses, from stone throwing to deadly attacks, about 190 are administrative detainees.

The number of hunger strikers in the current round has dropped from a high of 320 to 80, said Sivan Weizman of the Israel Prisons Authority. She said all 80 are in Israeli hospitals.

Kadoura Fares, a Palestinian advocate for prisoners, said Israel is using force-feeding as a political tool, to "prevent the prisoners from achieving anything and depriving them of the strong weapon they have."

In force-feeding, hunger strikers receive nourishment through a nasal tube. Eidelman said the procedure can be traumatic, harmful and even deadly, potentially perforating organs or causing internal bleeding.

Israeli hospitals have so far been successful in keeping hunger strikers alive without having to resort to force-feeding, he said. This includes offering hunger strikers supplements of glucose, vitamins or electrolytes. "These hunger strikers don't want to die, they want to express their will," he said, speaking at the IMA's office in an office high-rise in the city of Ramat Gan, part of the Tel Aviv metropolitan area.

The legislation does not force hospital doctors to cooperate and it remains unclear who administer the feeding tubes if the bill is passed.

Netanyahu was quoted as saying that doctors would be found to force-feed prisoners and that hunger strikers are force-fed at the U.S.-run Guantanamo Bay detention camp for suspected militants.

Eidelman said his organization has 22,000 active members and that there is broad consensus for his position.

"We absolutely refuse to cooperate with this law," he said. "On this issue, we don't have a debate. I did not get, except for maybe one, any letters from doctors that oppose our position."

The U.S.-based Physicians for Human Rights has said it is not aware of prisoners being force-fed anywhere except Guantanamo, but that it is often difficult to get access to prisons to verify their practices. There have, however, been past cases of force-feeding, including of prisoners from Germany's radical leftist Red Army Faction in the 1970s.

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Associated Press writer Mohammed Daraghmeh in Ramallah, West Bank contributed to this report.

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