Hundreds of Hamas prisoners to join hunger strike

Palestinians look to step up protest as Trump arrives; progress made in talks to end fast, minister says

Protesters hold Palestinian flags in solidarity with Palestinian prisoners who are on a hunger strike in Israeli jails, near the West Bank city of Nablus, May 16, 2017. (AP/Majdi Mohammed)
Protesters hold Palestinian flags in solidarity with Palestinian prisoners who are on a hunger strike in Israeli jails, near the West Bank city of Nablus, May 16, 2017. (AP/Majdi Mohammed)

As US President Donald Trump arrives in Israel on Monday, some 200 Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails plan to join an ongoing mass hunger strike that has seen hundreds of inmates refuse food for over a month.

Most of those who will join the hunger strike are members of terror group Hamas, Palestinian and Israeli sources told the Times of Israel Sunday.

Hamas has thus far not taken a large part in the hunger strike, which is seen by some as a play for power within the rival Fatah group by strike leader Marwan Barghouti — a widely supported Palestinian politician who is serving five life terms for orchestrating terrorism during the Second Intifada.

Hamas and other Palestinian factions also issued an ultimatum to Israel that if the prisoners’ demands for improved conditions are not met by Saturday then another 800 prisoners will join those who are already fasting.

Palestinians say some 1,600 inmates have kept up the fast since mid April, but Israel says the number has dropped to around 850. About 20 inmates were transferred to a medical wing over their deteriorating conditions Sunday, according to Channel 2 news.

Some strikers, who have been subsisting on salt water, have begun refusing to drink that as well in recent days, according to supporters.

A series of protests in support of them have been held in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, with two Palestinians killed and dozens of others wounded in clashes between rioters and Israeli security forces or civilians.

The prisoners, jailed for offenses linked to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, seek better conditions, including 20 TV channels, unrestricted books and magazines, air conditioning, a greater selection of items available for purchase in the canteen, family visits, the restarting of open university studies, public telephone use, and annual medical checks for prisoners.

Israel says prisoners’ conditions meet all international standards. Reported efforts to negotiate an end to the strike have failed thus far.

Palestinian authority Civil Affairs Minister Hussein al-Sheikh told Voice of Palestine radio Sunday that there has been some positive response to the demands of the prisoners in talks with Israeli authorities. Sheikh predicted that within a few days the success of the hunger strike will become apparent.

Israel doesn’t have any other choice, but to accept the demands of the prisoners, he said.

Some of the prisoners will be on their 37th day of hunger strike when Trump meets Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Bethlehem in the West Bank on Tuesday.

Palestinian are planning a series of actions to draw Trump’s attention to the hunger strike during his visit to Israel.

Activists are calling for a general strike throughout the Palestinian territories and among Arab Israelis on Monday.

Supporters are also planning to display three banners in English in Bethlehem addressed to Trump, his wife Melania and his daughter Ivanka, who are traveling with him.

“We hope that Mr. Trump will pressure Israel to accede to the strikers’ demands,” said activist Adel Sabanay.

Amin Shuman, who heads a support group for Palestinian prisoners and ex-detainees, said he hopes the issue will be addressed during the meeting between Trump and Abbas “because it is important in the eyes of the Palestinian street.”

Hossam Zumlot, an aide to Abbas, told AFP that “all fundamental questions will be on the table in the discussions.”

The Palestinian leadership “informed the American administration of the details of the strike beginning the first day,” he said.

Some 6,500 Palestinians are currently held in Israeli jails for a range of crimes and alleged offences.

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