Police break up pro-hunger strike protest at Jerusalem’s Old City
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Police break up pro-hunger strike protest at Jerusalem’s Old City

Woman arrested at Damascus Gate rally in solidarity with Palestinian prisoners; Israeli official says number of hunger strikers down to 870

Illustrative: Border Police officers secure the area in front of Damascus Gate after a brief conflict with some Palestinian men on April 24, 2017. (Noah Park/Flash90)
Illustrative: Border Police officers secure the area in front of Damascus Gate after a brief conflict with some Palestinian men on April 24, 2017. (Noah Park/Flash90)

A protest in support of Palestinian inmates on hunger strike was broken up by police at Damascus Gate in Jerusalem’s Old City Monday.

Protesters showed up at Damascus Gate wearing shirts bearing images of Palestinian prisoners as part of an “attempt to carry out a deliberate provocation,” police spokeswoman Luba Samri said.

Police at the scene declared the protest an illegal demonstration and ordered the participants to disperse.

A video from the scene showed about 100 people at the protest.

One female resident of East Jerusalem was arrested for disorderly conduct and failing to listen to police instructions, while the rest of the protesters left the area in accordance with police instructions, Samri said.

Palestinian officials say some 1,500 prisoners are participating in the hunger strike that began on April 17, with detainees ingesting only water and salt. Israel Prison Service spokesman Assaf Librati said on Monday that 870 prisoners are still refusing to eat.

Librati did not elaborate on why over 400 prisoners had quit the strike. He said the strikers are held in separate wings, monitored by medical staff. He said several are held in isolation.

Support for the strike has gained momentum with West Bank marches and a social media campaign showing celebrities in the Arab world drinking salty water in solidarity.

The hunger-strikers, led by convicted terrorist and popular Palestinian figure Marwan Barghouti, who is serving five life terms for his role in deadly attacks, have become a cause celebre, with near daily demonstrations in support of them.

On Sunday night, clashes erupted near Nablus as Israeli troops broke up a sit-in in support of the strikers, according to the Palestinian Ma’an news agency.

While some demonstrations in the West Bank have turned violent, those in Jerusalem have been mostly calm.

On Saturday, police dispersed dozens of protesters in Jerusalem’s Old City who demonstrated in support of the striking prisoners. The protesters held pictures of prisoners and attempted to march to the Damascus Gate, but were blocked by Israeli authorities.

Palestinians protest in solidarity with security prisoners on a hunger strike by the security barrier in the West Bank city of Bethlehem on April 26, 2017. (AFP Photo/Musa Al Shaer)
Palestinians protest in solidarity with security prisoners on a hunger strike by the security barrier in the West Bank city of Bethlehem on April 26, 2017. (AFP Photo/Musa Al Shaer)

Some 6,500 Palestinians are currently detained by Israel for a range of terror offenses and crimes. Around 500 are being held under Israel’s system of administrative detention, which allows for imprisonment without charge.

Palestinian prisoners have mounted repeated hunger strikes, but rarely on such a scale.

Among the demands made by Barghouti and fellow prisoners are the resumption of a second monthly visit by family members (a benefit that was canceled by the International Committee of the Red Cross last year due to budget cuts), the prevention of family meetings being canceled for security reasons, extending the length of each visit from 45 minutes to an hour and a half, and the restoration of academic studies and matriculation exams for prisoners. Other demands include more television channels being available in cells and the installation of public telephones in security wings.

Barghouti is popular among Palestinians, with polls suggesting he could win the Palestinian presidency. Many Israeli and Palestinian analysts have speculated that Barghouti organized the strike in a bid to boost his declining power in Palestinian politics.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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