More than 1 000 Palestinian prisoners begin hunger strike

Israel says it will not negotiate with more than 1,000 Palestinian detainees who have begun a mass hunger strike against conditions in Israeli jails.

Palestinians termed the open-ended strike a protest against poor conditions and an Israeli policy of detention without trial that has been applied against thousands since the 1980s.

Barghouti's call for the strike has given it added credibility, with the 57-year-old serving five life sentences over his role in the second Palestinian intifada or uprising. The Islamic militant group Hamas, which seized Gaza from Abbas in 2007, has called for an Islamic state in historic Palestine, including in what is now Israel.

The punitive move also came after Barghout published an opinion piece in The New York Times to explain the hunger strike.

Palestinians regard the detainees as political prisoners. "Some have been killed while in detention", he wrote. Barghouti will reportedly soon be taken to court, where he will be prosecuted for an op-ed he released to The Times, in which he gave several quite damning statements concerning life in an Israeli prison. The Prisons Service did not initially comment on his status.

Erdan had said on Monday: "Barghouti, the leader of the hunger strikers, is politically motivated by [his campaign for] the Palestinian leadership, and includes unreasonable demands on the conditions of the prisoners".

Protests were also held in Palestinian cities in connection with Prisoners Day, including one in Bethlehem that led to clashes with Israeli forces.

"Calling Barghouti a leader and parliamentarian is like calling [Syrian President Bashar] Assad a pediatrician", Netanyahu said on Tuesday.

Barghouti noted that "about 200 Palestinian prisoners have died since 1967 because of such actions". Building new settlements in the occupied territories is considered a violation of global law.

Approximately 1 100 prisoners in different facilities had declared their intention to strike, said Israel Prison Service spokeswoman Hana Herbst, adding that the service was taking disciplinary measures. Palestinian officials and activists estimated the number of participants to be as many as 1,500.

The hunger strike was launched as the approaching half-century mark of Israeli rule over Palestinians appeared to generate renewed interest in the long-running conflict, which in recent years was often overshadowed by war and turmoil elsewhere in the region.

Under the motto "Strike for freedom and dignity", the prisoners presented a series of demands, including the improvement of the visits system, and the end of solitary confinement and administrative detention, which allows detention without charge or trial for periods of six months renewable indefinitely. Strikers are demanding access to phones, better visitation and improved medical care inside the prisons.

Israeli troops and settlers pulled out of the Gaza Strip in 2005 but started a naval blockade after Hamas seized control of the territory in 2007.

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