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Palestinian prisoners enter third week of mass hunger strike

Popular support for the hunger strike has been gaining momentum [Anadolu]

Date of publication: 1 May, 2017

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The number of Palestinian prisoners participating in a mass hunger strike to protest the conditions of their detention in Israeli prisons is declining as the strike enters its third week.
Nearly 1,000 Palestinian prisoners entered the third week of a mass hunger strike to protest the conditions of their detention in Israeli prisons on Monday.

More than 1,500 prisoners took part in the hunger strike that began on April 17, with those taking part ingesting only water and salt, but their number gradually declined below 1,000 as Israeli prison authorities ramped up punitive measures to pressure the prisoners into breaking their strikes.

The media committee for the "Freedom and Dignity strike," formed by the Palestinian Committee of Prisoners' Affairs and the Palestinian Prisoner's Club, said that Israeli prison authorities continue to ban lawyers from visiting Palestinian prisoners on hunger strike, except at Ofer prison in the central occupied West Bank district of Ramallah and Ashkelon prison in southern Israel.

There are conflicting reports on the number of prisoners continuing their hunger strike.

Assaf Librati, a spokesperson for the Israel Prison Service, said on Monday that 870 prisoners are still on hunger strike, down from a peak of about 1,300 last week.

However, the Palestinian Authority and the Palestinian Prisoners' Club said 1,500 inmates were keeping up their fast in Israeli jails.

Three hundred hunger strikers have "agreed to take food without having obtained" any of their demands, Israel's internal security minister, Gilad Erdan, told army radio.

"Negotiations are out of the question," he said, adding that 920 Palestinian prisoners remained on hunger strike.

But the head of the Palestinian NGO, Qadura Fares, said the prison service is trying to negotiate with some of the prisoners and had moved a number of hunger strikers to a jail in northern Israel for that purpose.

"The Israeli prison service is trying to launch negotiations with groups of prisoners who are on hunger strike about their demands, except for (Palestinian leader) Marwan Barghouti," said Fares.

The Israeli prison service is trying to launch negotiations with groups of prisoners who are on hunger strike about their demands, except for (Palestinian leader) Marwan Barghouti
- Qadura Fares

He added that Barghouti would continue with the strike "even if he was alone, until he achieves the goal."

Barghouti, who is leading the mass hunger strike, is serving five life sentences over his role in the second Palestinian intifada against the Israeli occupation, and was put into solitary confinement for penning a comment piece for the New York Times, sparking protests.

The strike is one of the largest such protests in recent years, with potential fallout beyond the prisoners' demands for better conditions in Israel lockups.

Popular support for the hunger strike has been gaining momentum with West Bank marches, sit-ins and a social media campaign showing video clips of celebrities from across the Arab world drinking salty water in solidarity.

Several celebrities in the Arab world have already taken part in the "water and salt" campaign, initiated by the Barghouti family.

Those include the host of "Arabs Got Talent," who drank the salt water at the opening of his popular Beirut-based TV show over the weekend. Others included a prominent Iraqi football player and a Lebanese artist.

Palestinian analyst Ahmad al-Azem said the hunger strike is helping mobilise younger Palestinians who have been largely apathetic in recent years because paths to statehood appear to be blocked.

"This will be a very important step for a new generation to think how we can start again because politically, we are in a crisis," said Azem.

"Nothing is working, negotiations are not working, the occupation is continuing."

Some 6,500 Palestinians are currently detained by Israel for a range of offences and alleged crimes.

Around 500 are held under administrative detention, which allows for imprisonment without charge.

Palestinian prisoners have mounted repeated hunger strikes, but rarely on such a scale.

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