Sources among Palestinian prisoners held in Israel said Friday that Israeli authorities had agreed to concessions in order to avoid a mass hunger strike planned to start Sunday. Israeli officials vehemently denied any such concessions had been offered.
Palestinian Authority officials have said prisoners plan to strike to protest their incarceration conditions — particularly recent Israeli measures to restrict illicit cellphone usage by the prisoners, which include the installation of jamming systems.
There is concern that a mass hunger strike could increase military tensions with the Hamas terror group along the Gaza border, at a time when Egyptian mediators are seeking to secure a long-term ceasefire between the sides.
Unnamed sources told the Haaretz newspaper that Israel had agreed to install payphones inside prisons.
“It doesn’t matter if the public phones are under surveillance, because we only want to speak to our families,” a source said. “If there’s a payphone we don’t need to smuggle cellphones.”
Prisoners are also said to be demanding family visitations from Gaza residents and more TV stations in the wards. The source told Haaretz Israeli authorities had agreed to hold further discussions after next week’s election.
Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan’s office strongly denied that prisoners had been offered any carrots to avoid the strike.
The row over incarceration conditions has recently sparked violence.
Twice last month, Hamas prisoners violently attacked guards at Ketziot Prison, with one guard sustaining serious injuries from a stab wound to his neck. Reports in Hebrew-language media said that in the second attack, inmates used shanks to stab guards as the prisoners were being moved between cells, sparking a riot in the prison.
The Palestinian Prisoners Club has said that riots at Ketziot sparked by the crackdown have injured over 120 Palestinian inmates since February. According to the group, Israel Prisons Service officials have completely isolated several prisoners involved in the riot in “very dire conditions,” stripping them of their personal belongings, family visitation rights and interactions with other prisoners.
The IPS said that 11 prisoners were injured and hospitalized after security forces quelled a March 3 riot. Seven of the prisoners were airlifted to hospitals by the IDF, the Haaretz daily reported at the time.
The stabbings came a week after Hamas prisoners in the nearby Ramon prison torched 14 beds, setting a fire in the wing. The blaze was quickly extinguished and no injuries were reported. In that incident, too, prisoners were protesting restrictions on cellphone usage.
On Monday, the United Nations’ envoy to the region, Nickolay Mladenov, reportedly discussed the issue of Palestinian prisoners during talks with Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh in the Gaza Strip.
Israel’s Channel 13 quoted a Palestinian source as saying that Haniyeh warned Mladenov that the recent uptick in violence among prisoners could aggravate tensions with Israel.
Hamas officials reportedly asked Mladenov to intervene, and said that inmates were prepared to take unspecified measures if the Israeli “attacks” against them continued.
Erdan has called the recent violence “very serious,” and said it “proves once again that the prisons service is on the front-line of the war against terror.”
Erdan vowed to continue jamming cellphones in prisons, saying that it was an important step in attempts to prevent “terror attacks being directed from within the prison against Israeli civilians.”
Tamar Pileggi and Adam Rasgon contributed to this report.