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Palestinians in Israeli prisons begin hunger strike

20 April 2017

Israel will not negotiate with hundreds of Palestinian prisoners who launched a hunger strike to press for better conditions, a government minister said Tuesday, adding that the organiser of the protest has been placed in solitary confinement.

Long-term mass hunger strikes by Palestinian prisoners are rare, but in past cases of individual inmates who stopped eating for weeks, detention terms were shortened or not renewed after they were hospitalised in critical condition.

According to reports, he was transferred along with three other prisoners from Israel's Hadarim prison to Jalama prison, north of Jenin in an effort to thwart the ongoing hunger strike among almost 1000 Palestinian prisoners.

One of the largest demonstration took place in Ramallah, where thousands gathered in Yasser Arafat Square, raising flags emblazoned with the face of imprisoned Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti and Palestinian flags.

Palestinian leaders, including Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah and Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) Executive Committee Member Hanan Ashrawi, have backed the strike.

There are fears that the hunger strike - observed by 1187 detainees, according to Israel's prison service - could fuel tensions across the Palestinian areas. According to Palestinian authorities and the advocacy group Addameer, some 500 of them are held under administrative detention which means they are jailed without charge or trial for a period of six months, which can be extended. Prisoners are also demanding better medical care and extended visits with family. Unsurprisingly, Barghouti makes no reference to his role in organizing the second intifada, in which Palestinian militants killed nearly 1,000 Israeli citizens despite the generous peace deal offered to Yasser Arafat. The protests also marked the annual "Palestinian Prisoners" Day' in support of political prisoners.

The umbrella body highlighted the deteriorating situation of those Palestinian prisoners who fall ill and are often neglected by the Israeli authorities.

Barghouti, a former leader of the Palestinian political party Fatah, has spent the last 15 years in an Israel prison for five murder convictions in relation with terrorist activity, including the murder of a Greek Orthodox monk in 2001.

The Israel Prison Service said that it does not negotiate with prisoners.

Prison Service spokesman Assaf Librati refused to elaborate on Barghouti's role.

Israeli officials attacked the Times, saying they publish articles authored by killers, without fully disclosing their crimes and therefore readers do not know who they are.

"This massive strike sends a strong message to the Israelis, after 50 years of occupation, suppression and oppression, that the prisoners. will lead their people from behind bars", she said.