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Hundreds of Palestinians start massive hunger strike in Israeli prisons – reports

Inspired by imprisoned Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti, up to 2,000 Palestinian prisoners have reportedly gone on a hunger strike, demanding improved prison conditions, including visits, medical treatment, and education.

From 700 to 2,000 or more inmates of Israeli prisons reportedly declared a hunger strike on Monday. The day also marks ‘Palestinian Prisoners’ Day,’ an annual event held in support of Palestinian political prisoners.

According to Israeli media, the strike was called for by Marwan Barghouti, who was sentenced to five life sentences for five murders plus 40 years for attempted murder. Barghouti has remained politically active behind bars and still is a high-profile leader of the Palestinian Fatah Party, with some even considering him as successor to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

The inmates’ demands, issued by the incarcerated Fatah leader, include the installation of public telephones and television, restoration of bimonthly visits and academic studies, as well as an easing of visit conditions and duration. They are also calling for an end to solitary confinement and administrative detention.

Some organizations have reportedly voiced their support for the strike, including the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, The Palestinian Popular Struggle Front (PPSF), the Palestinian People’s Party (PPP), and a number of Hamas prisoners.

“After consultations with prisoners of various factions, PPP-affiliated prisoners decided to join the battle for freedom and dignity on April 17, which coincides with Palestinian Prisoner’s Day.” Palestinian People’s Party leader Khandaqji said, as cited by Maan news.

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Hamas called on the prisoners to “unite in the face of all those who might harm prisoners and their dignity,” and warned the Israel Prison Service “against bringing any harm to the hunger strikers.”

The Prison Service, however, considers the strike a violation of the law and warned of serious consequences, according to the Jerusalem Post. All participants will face disciplinary measures if they fail to comply with the prisons’ rules, Israeli media said.

The jails were also instructed to not let anyone outside of the walls of the prisons, with all necessary medical help to be provided inside the prisons or in field hospitals.

“I have instructed the prison service to act in any way to contain the strike within the walls of the prisons and the Israel Police to prepare and provide any help needed to the prison service for any scenario that is likely to develop,” Israeli Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan is quoted as saying by The Times of Israel.

He also said that the strike is more about politics than concern for inmates’ rights. “The strike led by Barghouti is motivated by internal Palestinian politics and therefore includes unreasonable demands concerning the conditions in the prisons,” Erdan said on Sunday.

Israeli prisons hold around 6,500 Palestinians, including 300 children, according to Palestinian human rights organization Addameer.

The poor prison conditions were condemned in an Amnesty International report, issued last week. Prisoners’ family members told the group that they had not seen their relatives for many years and that their applications for visits were frequently rejected due to “Israel’s ruthless policy.”

More than 1,000 inmates are not allowed to see their families on “security grounds,” according to the Palestinian Prisoners' Affairs Commission spokesperson, as cited by Amnesty.