Palestinian prisoners begin indefinite hunger strike, OIC asks world leaders to intervene

The Prisoners' Club said a main demand was for Israel to halt detention without trial for some 500 Palestinians now being held, and for an end to solitary confinement.The strikers also want better medical treatment and that disabled inmates or those suffering chronic illness be freed, access to more television channels and more phone contact with relatives and more family visits.The strike prompted a large rally in Gaza and a protest broke out near the occupied West Bank town of Bethlehem where Palestinian demonstrators clashed with Israeli forces.

Israeli politicians from across the political spectrum fiercely condemned The New York Times on Monday for publishing an op-ed by imprisoned Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti that neglected to mention that he is in prison for murder, not his political views.

In 2011, Israel swapped more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners for an Israeli soldier who had been held by Hamas for five years.

The open-ended strike was launched to mark Palestinian Prisoners Day amid calls by detainees for the resumption of prison visits, better medical care and better treatment of female prisoners.

Under the title "Why we are on hunger strike in Israel's prisons", Barghouti wrote that 50 years of Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip has proved that Israel has been using an "inhumane system" incarceration to break "the spirit of inflicting suffering on their bodies, separating them from their families and communities and using humiliating measures to compel subjugation".

They are also calling for an end to solitary confinement and Israel's controversial administrative detention policy, which allows renewable six-month periods of detention without trial.

Among the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians whom Israel has taken captive are children, women, parliamentarians, activists, journalists, human rights defenders, academics, political figures, militants, bystanders, family members of prisoners.

"Even though it is one of the most unsafe and hard decisions, they [inmates] are only making this choice because conditions [inside the prisons] have reached a new low", Amina al-Taweel, spokesperson for the Hebron-based Palestinian Prisoners Center for Studies, told Al Jazeera.

Later Monday, Barghouti, who was incarcerated in Hadarim Prison in central Israel, was moved to Kishon Prison in the north of the country, Hebrew language media reported.

Barghouti began to call for a strike after talks between prisoners' representatives and the Israel Prison Service on improving prison conditions reached an impasse.

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However, gains were capped due to caution over the rising tensions in the Middle East and political uncertainty in Europe. Sectorial indices such as FMCG, capital goods, PSU, realty and banking were in the lead, giving sentiment a lift.

The prisoners' demands include more frequent family visits and easier access to telephones.

The Palestinian Prisoners Club NGO put the number at 1 500.

He condemned what he called Israel's intransigence in the face of "fair" prisoner demands.

He stated that the number of the prisoners who died in Israeli jails has increased to 210. This new hunger strike will demonstrate once more that the prisoners' movement is the compass that guides our struggle, the struggle for Freedom and Dignity, the name we have chosen for this new step in our long walk to freedom.

The last large-scale hunger strike was in February 2013, when 3,000 Palestinians refused to eat for one day to protest against the death of a fellow detainee.

Palestinians consider those held in Israeli jails as national heroes.

Israel's Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan held a meeting with prison authorities, police, intelligence agencies and security forces on Sunday (16 April) to address the situation.

For Palestinians, the prisons have become a stark symbol of Israel's occupation.

Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts have been at a standstill since a US-led initiative collapsed three years ago.

  • Sonia Alvarado