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JERUSALEM (AP) - A Palestinian prisoner who refused food for nearly nine months to press for his freedom walked out of an Israeli prison on Monday to a joyous welcome from friends and family.
Samer Issawi had taken only water and infusions from Aug. 1, 2012 until April 23 of this year, becoming a symbol of the Palestinian struggle against Israel.
The 33-year-old, who was originally convicted in connection to a series of shooting attacks, was among several Palestinian prisoners staging long-term hunger strikes.
On Monday evening, Issawi underwent a medical exam in an ambulance parked outside the prison in northern Israel and then drove off.
In his hometown of Issawiyeh on the outskirts of Jerusalem, residents prepared a hero's welcome. Boys wore hooded sweat shirts with Issawi's picture, a Palestinian flag and the word "resist" printed on them. Motorists put Issawi posters on their cars and a school yard across from his house was prepared for a ceremony.
"He came back in triumph," read a banner near his home.
Issawi had been released in a prisoner swap in October 2011, after serving 10 years of a 26-year sentence. He was convicted in 2002 of involvement in a series of shooting attacks targeting police cars and students at Jerusalem's Hebrew University.
He was re-arrested in July 2012, for violating the terms of his release which prevented him from entering certain areas of the West Bank. With the new arrest, he faced the prospect of serving his full term.
A month after the new arrest, he launched a hunger strike. He ended it only after winning assurances that he would be released a few months later.
Currently, more than 4,700 Palestinians are held by Israel on security-related charges. Their fate is an emotionally charged issue for Palestinians.
Tens of thousands of Palestinians have been arrested at one time or another since Israel captured the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem in 1967, and almost every family has had a member in prison.