RAMALLAH — Clashes erupted in the West Bank on Thursday between Israeli soldiers and hundreds of Palestinians protesting in support of hunger strikers in Israeli prisons, leaving at least two people wounded.
Youths wearing hoods or masks threw stones at IDF soldiers, who responded with rubber bullets and water cannon containing foul-smelling liquid.
The two Palestinians were hit by rubber bullets and evacuated on stretchers with bloodied legs, an AFP journalist reported.
The clashes broke out at a checkpoint at the entrance to Ramallah.
The protest was called in support of hundreds of Palestinian security prisoners on hunger strike in Israeli jails since April 17.
“We are entering an extremely critical period” for the hunger strikers, Qadura Fares, head of the Palestinian Prisoners Club, said earlier at a rally in Ramallah.
“A large number of prisoners can no longer move from their bed or take care of their basic needs.”
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) visited the leader of the hunger strike, popular Palestinian figure and convicted terrorist Marwan Barghouti, on Thursday for the first time since it began. Barghouti is serving five life sentences for his role in orchestrating deadly terror attacks during the second Palestinian intifada.
An ICRC spokesman was unable to provide an update on his health “in accordance with the principles of medical confidentiality.”
The ICRC had also been allowed access to other prisoners on hunger strike.
Israeli authorities say 894 Palestinian prisoners have kept up the strike, while Palestinian officials say it is more than 1,000.
Some 6,500 Palestinians are currently held by Israel for a range of offenses and alleged crimes.
The hunger strikers have issued a list of demands including better medical services, family visits and more dignified detention conditions. But Israel has vowed not to negotiate with the hunger strikers, with Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan calling them “terrorists and incarcerated murderers.”
Israel says prisoners’ conditions meet all international standards.
Earlier this week, Israel produced footage it said showed Barghouti secretly breaking his fast in his cell. His wife Fadwa rejected the footage as fake, saying it was “intended to break the morale of prisoners.” A lawyer, she has also called on the pope to intervene.
Some see the hunger strike as a strategic political move by Barghouti, who is thought to wish to demonstrate his influence on the Palestinian street ahead of a bid to succeed Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.