Some 1,200 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails began an open-ended hunger strike Tuesday, and another 1,100 refused to eat for the day, the Israel Prisons Service said. The strike began on the Palestinians' annual Prisoners' Day, and on the same day that Khader Adnan, who ended a 67-day hunger strike in February, was released from jail.
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Among those who refused food on Tuesday were eight women being held in the Givon Prison after being refused entry to Israel in the 'flytilla' protests over the weekend. Human rights groups put the number of hunger strikers at more than 1,500 and say more prisoners in the Ofer and Megido prison are expected to join the strike in coming days.
The strikers are protesting three main Israeli policies: solitary confinement, administrative detention and the continuation of sanctions imposed before the release of abducted Israeli solder Gilad Shalit. The administrative detention policy allows Israel to jail suspected terrorists without trial for extendable six-month periods, based on classified intelligence information made available only to a military judge. The sanctions imposed as part of the pressure on Hamas to release Shalit include preventing visits from family members who live in Gaza, making conditions difficult for West Bank families visiting relatives in prison (by strip searching them, for example ), canceling academic courses and what the prisoners call other collective punishments.
The prisoners are also protesting what they call humiliating measures in Israeli prisons, such as night searches of prison cells.
Palestinians held a rally in Ramallah on Tuesday, to mark Prisoners' Day, which shows solidarity for Palestinians being held in Israeli prisons. They marched toward the nearby Ofer Prison on the outskirts of the city.
Palestinian organizations began Prisoners' Day commemorations Monday night, with a torch-lighting ceremony in Adnan's home. Adnan refused to eat for 67 days to protest Israel's administrative detention policy. He ended the strike in February, after reaching a deal with the state to release him at the end of a four-month prison term. He was set free late last night.
Issa Qaraqaa, the Palestinian minister prisoner affairs, called the situation in Israeli prisons dangerous and called on all prisoners from all organizations and factions to keep a united front and joint plan of action against the Israel Prison Service. The Palestinian prisoner issue is gathering support in the international community, he said.
Qaraqaa said Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas plans to ask the United Nations and the International Court of Justice in the Hague to recognize Palestinian security prisoners as prisoners of war based on international principles.
Among prisoners currently striking, three have been striking for more than 40 days. Tair Halala of the Hebron area and Balal Diab of the village of Rai near Jenin have not eaten for 48 days; they are demanding to be released. Hassan Safdi of Nablus has been on a hunger strike for 41 days and Omer Abu Shlal has been striking for 40 days.
Israel Prison Service confirmed that the four are receiving medical treatment, but say that the prisoners have only been striking for 27 days. "We have dealt with hunger strikes in the past and we are prepared for them now too," said the Prison Service.
The Palestinians say altogether, 11 prisoners held in administrative detention are on hunger strikes.