Palestinians protest in support of prisoner on hunger strike

Dozens of Palestinians have protested outside an Israeli military court in the West Bank, calling for the release of a prisoner who has been on a partial hunger strike for nearly three months

RAMALLAH, West Bank -- Dozens of Palestinians protested outside an Israeli military court in the occupied West Bank on Thursday calling for the release of a prisoner who has been on a partial hunger strike for nearly three months.

The protesters carried portraits of Ahmed Zahran, 42, who was arrested in February and is being held without charge in what is known as administrative detention. He is a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a leftist group that Israel blames for a bombing in a settlement in August that killed a 17-year-old Israeli girl and wounded her brother and father.

Zahran has been arrested several times and previously spent 15 years in Israeli prison.

His family says he went on hunger strike to protest administrative detention, under which Israeli authorities can hold detainees for months or years without charge or trial. Rights groups have criticized the practice, which Israel says is necessary to prevent attacks and to protect classified information.

Zahran's brother, Adel, says he is taken to a clinic and given nutritional supplements when he faints.

Israeli troops dispersed Thursday's protest with sound grenades and tear gas. There were no reports of any injuries.

Nearly 5,000 Palestinians are serving time in Israeli prisons, including those convicted by military courts of taking part in deadly attacks against Israelis. An estimated 450 are being held in administrative detention.

In a separate development, Israeli police said 18 vehicles were vandalized in an Arab neighborhood of east Jerusalem.

Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said forensic teams were investigating at the scene in the neighborhood of Halaila, where anti-Arab graffiti was found on walls nearby.

Hard-line Israeli settlers have been known to carry out “price tag” attacks against Arab property in response to Palestinian militant attacks or perceived efforts by Israeli authorities to limit settlement expansion. It was unclear what might have sparked the latest apparent attack.

The incident comes ten days after vandals slashed the tires of over 160 vehicles and sprayed anti-Arab slogans in a different neighborhood of Jerusalem.

Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion condemned that incident as a "hate crime" and called on police “to find the criminals as fast as possible and bring them to justice.”

Israel captured east Jerusalem in the 1967 Mideast war and annexed it in a move not recognized by most of the international community. The Palestinians want east Jerusalem to be the capital of their future state.

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Associated Press writer Aron Heller in Jerusalem contributed to this story.