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Imprisoned Islamist leader Raed Salah begins hunger strike

Extremist cleric says he is protesting being denied contact with other inmates at Ramon Prison

Sheikh Raed Salah, center, marches with supporters outside the Jerusalem District Court on October 27, 2015. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Sheikh Raed Salah, center, marches with supporters outside the Jerusalem District Court on October 27, 2015. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The jailed head of the banned Northern Branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel has launched a hunger strike in protest of his conditions, Israel Prisons Service officials announced Monday night.

Sheikh Raed Salah, 58, of the northern city of Umm al-Fahm, returned four meals uneaten and announced his intention to refuse any further food due to being denied contact with other prisoners.

Salah began serving a nine-month sentence in May. He was sentenced last year for incitement to violence and racism over an inflammatory sermon he delivered in 2007 in Jerusalem. He has previously served terms for similar offenses. He is being held in the Ramon Prison in southern Israel.

Salah has been a key agitator on the Temple Mount, accusing Israel of seeking to destroy the al-Aqsa Mosque and Dome of the Rock shrine at the holy site.

According to Palestinian media, Salah began his strike to protest being held in solitary confinement. He is barred from any contact with other inmates.

In February, Salah — not yet in jail at the time — went on a symbolic hunger strike in solidarity with Mohammed al-Qiq, a Palestinian prisoner who was being held by Israel under administrative detention. At the time, Salah told Al-Jazeera that former Knesset member Mohammad Barakeh was joining him in his protest.

In the 2007 sermon that landed him in prison for incitement to terrorism, Salah expressed the hope that “the streets of Jerusalem be purified with the blood of the innocent, who shed it in order to separate from their souls the soldiers of the Israel occupation, also in the blessed al-Aqsa Mosque.” He added that “our finest moment will be when we meet Allah as martyrs in al-Aqsa.”

Israel formally banned the Northern Branch of the Islamic Movement on November 17, 2015, charging that the group had links to terrorist groups and was instrumental in inciting a wave of violence over the past year that has seen dozens of stabbing and shooting attacks by Palestinians and some Israeli Arabs.

The North Branch rejects the Oslo peace accords between Israel and the Palestinians and boycotts national elections on the grounds that they give legitimacy to the existence of the Jewish state.

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