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Palestinian mass hunger strike takes dramatic turn

Israeli border guards are stationed at the main entrance of the West Bank city of Bethlehem on May 11, 2017, amid security concerns caused by a mass strike of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails. (Photo by AFP)

More Palestinian prisoners are joining the mass hunger strike which entered its 26th day Friday, with the campaign assuming global proportions amid worsening health conditions of hundreds of strikers languishing in Israeli jails.

Sawt al-Asra (Voice of Prisoners) radio cited anonymous sources as saying that nearly 100 Palestinian inmates from different political factions have decided to join the hunger strike.

The radio estimated that nearly 1,800 prisoners are currently participating in the strike. However, the Palestinian Prisoners’ Club put the figure far higher, saying more than 3,000 prisoners are taking part in the strike. 

Israeli authorities have, however, claimed that fewer than 1,000 prisoners are participating in the strike.

The Fatah Central Committee, considered the Palestinian movement’s top decision-making body, called on Thursday for all its members in Israeli prisons to join the hunger strike immediately.  

According to the Palestinian Prisoners’ Club, 1,000 others are expected to join in the wake of the Central Committee resolution. 

In South Africa, a number of cabinet ministers, personalities, activists and political leaders vowed to join a 24-hour fast in solidarity with the hunger-striking Palestinians.

According to Palestinian prisoner solidarity network Samidoun, activists from the US, France and Belgium have also launched a short hunger strike in solidarity with the Palestinian prisoners.

Human rights and Palestine solidarity organization Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel in South Africa (BDS South Africa) joined the call for a fast by other solidarity organizations.

The list of those who have pledged their support to the fast includes Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi, Communications Minister Ayanda Dlodlo, Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies and Economic Development Minister Ebrahim Patel, Independent Online (IOL) news website reported

In a statement, BDS spokesperson Kwara Kekana said: "There are currently over 6,500 #PalestinianPoliticalPrisoners detained by Israel. Over the past 50 years, more than 800,000 Palestinians have been imprisoned or detained by Israel (about 40% of all Palestinian men living under occupation have at some point been detained by Israel). Virtually every single Palestinian family has been affected by Israeli imprisonment of a loved one."

The photo shows a female Palestinian protestor wounded in the face by a rubber bullet during clashes with Israeli forces following a protest north of the occupied West Bank city of Ramallah on May 11, 2017 in support of Palestinian prisoners on hunger strike. (Photo by AFP)

Meanwhile, the National Committee for Supporting the Strike on Thursday called a “day of anger” across the occupied Palestinian territory.

Deteriorating health conditions

On Thursday, the Palestinian Committee of Prisoners’ Affairs warned about the “tragic” health conditions of the hunger strikers, as prisoners experienced severe dehydration, stomach aches, headaches, irregular heartbeats, and low blood pressure.

The committee said the situation of the hunger strikers is at a level of “extreme danger,” as most of them have lost between 15 and 25 kilograms, with some of them starting to vomit blood.

Meanwhile, the spokesman for the Palestinian Prisoners’ Center for Studies, Riyad al-Ashqar, said that Israel Prison Service (IPS) authorities in the Ketziot detention center have refused to transfer dozens of hunger strikers to hospitals and have kept them in infirmary.

Palestinians clash with Israeli forces following a protest north of the occupied West Bank city of Ramallah on May 11, 2017 in support of Palestinian prisoners on hunger strike in Israeli jails. (Photo by AFP)

The IPS is also pressuring prisoners to end their hunger strikes in exchange for receiving medical care, Ashqar said.

The IPS officers have also reportedly blocked some cells’ windows to deny hunger strikers access to sunlight.

The strikers are demanding basic rights, such as an end to the policies of administrative detention, solitary confinement and deliberate medical negligence.

The much criticized administrative detention is a policy under which Palestinian inmates are kept in Israeli detention facilities without trial or charge.

Back in 2012, a similar hunger strike, involving some 2,000 Palestinian inmates, ended after an agreement was reached with Israeli authorities to terminate the policy of internment without trial or charge.

Nearly 700 prisoners are currently held in administrative detention. Some of the inmates have been held in prison under the policy for up to 11 years.

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