Israeli prisons face mass Palestinian prisoner hunger strike

Israeli prisons face mass Palestinian prisoner hunger strike

Some 1,200 jailed Palestinians began an open-ended hunger strike Tuesday, Israel's prisons authority confirmed, as Palestinians engaged in a day of solidarity for their people imprisoned in Israeli facilities, dpa reported.

The hunger strikers represent about a quarter of the 4,600 Palestinian militants jailed in Israel. The larger figure includes 27 lawmakers, mostly of the radical Islamist Hamas movement ruling Gaza.

As part of the commemorations of Palestinian Prisoners Day, thousands demonstrated in Gaza City - as did hundreds more in Ramallah - waving flags and holding up pictures of jailed relatives.

Afterwards, about 150 protesters moved to an Israeli military roadblock outside Ramallah, where they threw stones and clashed with Israeli soldiers, a military spokeswoman in Tel Aviv said.

The soldiers used a "skunk," a vehicle-mounted crowd-control weapon which emits a foul-smelling mist, and water cannons, she told dpa.

Israel Prison Service (IPS) spokeswoman Sivan Weizman told dpa that, in addition to the 1,200 open-ended hunger strikers, another 1,100 declared they would not eat for one day.

Eight pro-Palestinian activists in a detention facility near Ben-Gurion Airport outside Tel Aviv also refused meals for a day. They were part of a group of several dozen mostly French nationals awaiting deportation abroad.

The group had arrived Sunday as part of a mass fly-in to demonstrate against Israeli policies toward Palestinians, but was banned by Israel from reaching the West Bank via its territory.

The striking prisoners were protesting against Israel's refusal to allow Gaza residents to visit their jailed residents. The ban has been in place since June 2007, when Hamas seized sole control of the coastal enclave.

They also protested against the use of solitary confinement as a punishment for ill behaviour, and against what they called other "humiliating" measures, including strip searches of visiting family members from the West Bank and night raids of prison cells.

They also object to Israel's policy of "administrative detention," six-month detention orders which can be renewed indefinitely without trial, based on classified intelligence shown only to a military judge.

Currently, 322 out of 4,610 Palestinian "security prisoners" are being held in administrative detention, according to Addammeer, a Ramallah-based group supporting them.

The controversial practice has been pushed to the forefront by Khader Adnan, an administrative detainee who survived a 66-day hunger strike this winter, the longest ever by a Palestinian prisoner, and succeeded in having Israel move forward his release date by 21 days, to April 17.

The senior member of the radical Islamic Jihad faction has been hailed as a "hero" by Palestinians. A welcome ceremony was being planned in his village near Jenin, on the northern West Bank, Tuesday.

To Israel's dismay, since he ended his strike in late February, a handful of other prisoners have followed his example.

The longest still holding out are Dilal Diab, 27, and Thaer Halahleh, 34, both on their 49th day.

But the wider strike begun Tuesday is the most massive in years.

The last mass hunger strike was in 2004. Initially joined by 1,500 prisoners, it ended after 18 days.

"We've dealt with hunger strikes in the past and we are ready for it also now," IPS spokeswoman Weizman said.

Amani Dayif, of Physicians for Human Rights Israel (PHRI), which sent doctors to visit them last week, said Diab and Halahleh were in mounting danger.

"They demand their release because they don't know why they are being held and their file is secret," she told dpa. Both are also administrative detainees and members of the Islamic Jihad political wing, members of which Israel insists are a security risk.

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