JERUSALEM (AP) - Israel is holding nearly 800 Palestinians without trial or charge, the highest number since 2008, an Israeli rights group said Sunday.
The group, HaMoked, which regularly gathers figures from Israeli prison authorities, said that 798 Palestinians are currently being held in so-called administrative detention, a practice where the prisoners can be held for months, do not know the charges against them and are not granted access to the evidence against them.
The group said the number of those held in administrative detention has risen steadily this year, as Israel conducts nightly arrest raids in the occupied West Bank in response to a spate of attacks against Israelis earlier this year.
Israel says it uses administrative detention to impede attacks and restrain dangerous militants without revealing sensitive intelligence. Rights groups and Palestinians say it is an abusive system that denies freedom without due process, leaving some Palestinians for months or even years behind bars with no evidence against them made accessible. Some resort to life-threatening hunger strikes to draw attention to their detention, which often drives up tensions between Israel and Palestinians.
"Administrative detention should be an exceptional measure but Israel makes wholesale use of this detention without trial," said Jessica Montell, HaMoked's executive director. "This has to stop. If Israel cannot bring them to trial, it must release all administrative detainees."
HaMoked said the figure was a new peak in a growing wave of administrative detentions which began last spring following a series of attacks by Palestinians against Israelis that killed 19 people. Those attacks sparked the Israeli raids that have killed some 100 Palestinians, many of them said to be militants or local youths out to protest the incursion into their cities or towns, but civilians have also died in the violence.
The Israeli military says some 1,500 Palestinians have been arrested during that time including those held in administrative detention. It says the raids are necessary to dismantle militant networks and thwart attacks against Israelis. Palestinians say the raids are aimed at maintaining Israel's 55-year military rule over territories they want for a future state.
The raids have been met by an uptick in shooting attacks in the West Bank. On Sunday, the military said an Israeli soldier and a motorist were lightly wounded in two separate incidents.
The last time Israel held as many administrative detainees, in May 2008, also coincided with an increase in Israeli-Palestinian violence.
Israel's Shin Bet domestic security service did not respond to a request for comment.
Israel captured the West Bank in the 1967 Mideast war and has since established some 130 settlements there, home to 500,000 settlers. The Palestinians want the territory, along with east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip for their hoped-for independent state.